“Sea Change” Refugee Compact Discussed in New York
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
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Governments received an update on negotiations on the global compact on refugees, ahead of the final round of scheduled consultations on 3-4 July in Geneva.

Once the compact is agreed, UNHCR Filippo Grandi will propose the text to the UN General Assembly as an annex to his annual report, for consideration in the UNGA's Third Committee.

Volker Turk, Office of the UNHCR, said that the compact – if adopted in a form similar the current draft – will represent a “sea change in how the world engages with refugees and host communities,” and have a transformative impact on those directly affected.

22 June 2018: Governments received an update on negotiations on the global compact on refugees, which is being led by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Volker Turk, Office of the UNHCR, said that the compact – if adopted in a form similar the current draft – will represent a “sea change in how the world engages with refugees and host communities,” and have a transformative impact on those directly affected.

The third draft of the compact was considered by UN Member States in Geneva, Switzerland, in consultations held from 12-13 June 2018. Addressing delegates in New York, US, on 22 June, Turk emphasized that the compact does not aim to cover every aspect of refugee protection and affairs, but rather to find better ways to share responsibility in a predictable, equitable manner. He said refugees and host communities have provided substantial input to the draft, including based on consultations they initiated themselves.

Turk reported that the current (third) draft of the text seeks to better reflect the concrete areas of support needed by countries and communities facing an influx. The compact does not aim to prescribe or set standards, he said, but to build on the existing refugee protection regime.

The third draft also aims to clarify the relationship between the global compact on refugees and the global compact on migrants, both of which were called for by the New York Declaration in 2016. Turk noted that the draft seeks to ensure that its follow-up and implementation foster coherence with other processes and actions related to people on the move (paragraph 101). He noted that UNHCR and the International Organization on Migration (IOM) issued a joint paper on coherence between the two compacts. The 5 June paper titled, ‘Key references in the New York Declaration (NYD) and their coherent reflection in both Compacts,’ highlights “illustrative examples of functional coherence,” including: references to international law; non-refoulement; drivers of migration and root causes of refugee flows; border management; detention and alternatives to detention; identification, screening and referrals; assistance for persons with specific needs; mixed movements; search and rescue; combatting trafficking in persons; climate change and disaster induced movements; migrants in vulnerable situations.

Governments have not yet reached consensus on indicators, periodicity of the Global Refugee Forum, or the humanitarian-development nexus.

Turk said governments have not reached consensus on: the indicators by which the compact’s success will be measured; the periodicity of the Global Refugee Forum, which will serve as the main vehicle for measuring progress towards the achievement of the compact’s objectives; nor the humanitarian-development nexus.

On indicators, he said the conversation is ongoing in Geneva. He noted that in parallel to the compact process, a work stream is underway to establish ways to measure the socio-economic impact of large-scale refugee movements on host countries and communities. This effort was mandated by a 2017 UNGA resolution, and OHCHR is receiving support from the World Bank, World Bank Group and OECD.

On the periodicity of the Global Refugee Forum, Turk reported that delegations have suggested a wide variety of schedules, including yearly, twice yearly, and once every three, four or five years.

On the humanitarian-development nexus, he said that increasing the engagement of development actors does not reduce the need for humanitarian action. With regard to the current process to reposition the UN development system, he said a discussion has taken place on how to work better together in light of the global compact on refugees, and that many countries are emphasizing the need for additional development cooperation, rather than a competition between development and humanitarian resources.

In a question-and-answer session, one government stressed the need for the refugee compact to avoid creating an additional burden on host countries, and the voluntary nature of the compact. He called for clarification regarding the resources to be used for the global compact on refugees and the global compact on migration, saying that implementing the 2030 Agenda must not have a negative impact on refugees. Multiple delegations supported a focus on national sovereignty, ownership and equality.

Another delegation welcomed language in the draft about “collective outcomes” and the “international community as a whole.” Another expressed regret that the text does not advance a focus on addressing reproductive health and rights. Turk responded that the compact will not change operational actions being undertaken in emergencies.

A representative of civil society highlighted a possible gap in addressing movements in the context of climate change, suggesting that this issue should be addressed in the global compact on migration in addition to the global compact on refugees. A UN system representative asked about the inclusion of slow-onset disasters as distinct from sudden-onset ones. Turk noted that the current draft of the refugee compact refers to movements with a “mixed composite character” and speaks to displacement resulting both from natural disasters or degradation, as well as conflict and persecution.

The last round of scheduled formal consultations on the text will convene from 3-4 July in Geneva, Switzerland. Another draft is expected to be released on 26 June.

Once the compact is agreed, UNHCR Filippo Grandi will propose the text to the UN General Assembly as an annex to his annual report, to be issued in late July 2018. Turk explained that the report then would be adopted in conjunction with the UNGA’s yearly resolution on refugees through deliberations in the Third Committee. This year’s discussions on the annual resolution are led by the government of Sweden. [UNHCR website on compact negotiations] [IISD sources] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on third draft of compact]


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