22 September 2016
Governments Announce Commitments and Discuss Compacts on Refugees and Migrants
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During the UN High-level Plenary Meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants (HLM or Summit for Refugees and Migrants), Member States and other stakeholders outlined commitments and made proposals regarding two global compacts, one on refugees and another on safe, orderly and regular migration.

Both compacts are expected to be negotiated by UN Member States over the next two years.

united_nations19 September 2016: During the UN High-level Plenary Meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants (HLM or UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants), Member States and other stakeholders outlined commitments and made proposals regarding two global compacts, one on refugees and another on safe, orderly and regular migration. Both compacts are expected to be negotiated by UN Member States over the next two years.

The HLM took place on 19 September 2016, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, and was co-chaired by the President of the 70th UN General Assembly (UNGA), Mogens Lykketoft, and the President of UNGA 71, Peter Thomson. Following an opening session, the HLM took place in two parallel plenaries, and six roundtables.

Many countries called for addressing the root causes of forced migration. These included poverty, lack of economic opportunity and jobs, poor governance, inadequate development, conflict and instability, human rights violations, environmental degradation, and marginalization and exclusion. Participants highlighted that meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would require leaving no one behind, including refugees and migrants.

While many highlighted the human right to move, Hungary said picking a country where you would like to live in is not a human right, while Gambia warned young people from leaving their countries because they think “Europe is the land of milk and honey.” Lebanon reported that since the beginning of the crisis in 2011, over 100,000 Syrian babies were born in his country, and over 50% of them were born in the last 18 months. He called on the international community to develop urgently a plan that would, inter alia: comprise a detailed logistic mapping of the return, in safety and dignity, of Syrians in Lebanon to their home country; set up burden sharing quotas for countries in the region and elsewhere and “negotiate the enactment of resettlement efforts before the end of 2016”; intensify the financing of development projects at local and regional levels; and ensure reliable reporting of effective payments made by donor, by sector.

Governments touched upon a number of themes and concepts through their interventions. With regard to cooperation, participants called for: sharing responsibility globally and strengthening international and regional action and cooperation; ensuring closer cooperation between countries of reception, countries of origin and of transit ;and ensuring closer coordination between humanitarian and development actors. Governments also underscored the importance of addressing the dangers of migration such as by enhancing efforts against human traffickers and terrorism; tackling human rights violations, and respecting international human right and humanitarian laws; replacing dangerous migration routes with safer ones, and opening “more channels” for legal migration; and curbing migrant smugglers. They also discussed the integration of migrants into society. They noted the importance of distinguishing between refugees and migrants; improving the public perception of migrants and ending discrimination; and education for migrant and refugee children. Some countries also outlined the positive cultural and economic contributions of migrants, while other governments highlighted the need for increased financial assistance.

Actions and Commitments

With regard to actions and commitments, several governments and others made pledges and announcements. China said it plans to provide an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance to help deal with the global refugee and migrant crisis, adding it was also working with developing countries on trilateral cooperation.

Japan noted plans to implement humanitarian assistance of US$2.8 billion over the next three years. Denmark said his country intends to increase humanitarian assistance to more than US$350 million annually and should add US$80 million during the fall of 2016 to help refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries. France said it will dedicate over €1 billion from 2016-2018 to address the Syrian crisis, and that €20 billion over the next five years will benefit the poorest African countries.

Portugal highlighted its recent announcement of its willingness to receive an additional 6000 asylum seekers, and added that migrants and refugees in the country have the same access to health services as nationals. Estonia noted that local governments in his country have taken action to ensure that children refugees from the age of one to 17 year old have access to education.

Brazil said a new bill on migration that will seek to guarantee rights, foster inclusion, avoid criminalizing migration and provide for humanitarian visas is in its final stages of consideration in the Brazilian Parliament.

The EU announced that it is finalizing agreements with Lebanon and Jordan to ensure safer living conditions for refugees in exchange for EU funding. He added that such compacts are also being developed with African countries. Cyprus said it has put forward measures for the recognition and protection of victims of trafficking, the prosecution and conviction of traffickers and enhanced bilateral cooperation on support of refugees and migration management.

Egypt reported that it: enacted a law on combating trafficking in persons in 2010; is finalizing a law on combating illegal immigration; and has taken steps to provide rehabilitation services for young people seeking to migrate. Ghana said it recently launched its National Migration Policy, while Burkina Faso announced that a National Migration Strategy is being developed to make migration more safe and orderly. Namibia reported the launch, in June 2016, of the first country migration profile.

Jordan said it has adopted a ‘Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis 2016-2018.’ The plan seeks to respond to the impacts the Syria crisis without jeopardizing Jordan’s development. Nauru said it has established a robust, fair, world class refugee determination system, which incorporates all guidelines from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The World Health Organization (WHO) noted it has issued an evidence-based strategy for protecting the health of refugees and migrants, and affirmed displaced people’s right to health care. UN Environment (UNEP) pledged support to humanitarian actors, including by increasing the availability of renewable energy, improving waste and wastewater management, and lowering the environmental footprint of peacekeeping activities and other field-based organizations.

The International Organization of Employers (IOE) highlighted the business mechanism endorsed by the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) to bring business leaders into government discussions on migration policies. She explained that businesses need labor migration and depend on the integration of migrants into markets around the world in order to meet shrinking domestic labor pools at all skill levels. She said immigrants can also help to raise consumption and generate additional jobs, in addition to bringing new skills and increasing innovation to economies.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) outlined the EIB “Resilience” initiative for EU’s Southern Neighbourhood and Western Balkans, an initiative to support regions outside of Europe significantly affected by the refugee crisis. The EIB added that it will increase support to these regions by €6 billion.

IFAD announced the establishment of a US$100 million Facility for Refugees, Migrants, Forced Displacement and Rural Stability (FARMS). FARMS seeks to support refugees and migrants in rural areas and host communities by: creating at least one million days of temporary work, 20,000 jobs and more than 500 community infrastructure projects; improving the management of natural resources; and providing better access to financial services. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) said it will support at least 30 programme countries over the next five years to analyze and address the drivers of migration and forced displacement, and work with partners to build evidence and data on migration and displacement.

Views on the Global Compacts

Many participants offered their views on the two global compacts to be negotiated by governments in the coming two years. On the global compact on refugees, Belgium said it should support communities in the region and focus on resettlement of the most vulnerable refugees (Belgium), while the US and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it should address internationally displaced persons (IDPs). Switzerland noted that the compact should be the cornerstone for any new commitments and actions. Kenya called for it to address the root causes of protracted refugee situations, lead to equitable burden sharing and predictable financing, include mechanisms for reconstruction and rehabilitation around refugee camps, and support infrastructure in source countries to facilitate the return of refugees. Canada suggested that UNHCR should play a leading role in designing the compact.

Also regarding the refugee crisis, governments and others called on countries of origin to take back citizens that do not meet the definition of refugees. Participants also noted that the private sector can help address the crisis; proposed a UN Refugee Fund; and stressed the need for all countries to sign and fully ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The global compact on migrants will be negotiated ahead of an intergovernmental conference to be held in 2018 in Mexico. A co-chair for the related roundtable session said that the discussion was the first step in analyzing migration and advancing towards the global compact. He said to secure consensus, the compact must support government and citizens in both countries of transit and reception.

At the session, Mexico noted that the following should be taken into account: the use of a human rights approach that sets forth the States’ obligations to migrants; a vision for shared responsibility among migrants’ countries of origin, transit, destination and return; recognition of the contributions migrants make to social and economic development; a focus on social inclusion that contributes to eradicating intolerance, prejudice and racism; a framework for governance of migration that offers alternatives for the safe and orderly management of migratory flows; greater international cooperation to strengthen States’ capacity for comprehensive attention to migration; and the consideration of climate change and natural phenomena as causes of migration. He added that Mexico has offered to host an International Preparatory Meeting in 2017 to make progress on the achievement of these objectives.

Panama and the Philippines highlighted human rights as a basis for the compact. The Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants also noted that migration “can’t be about keeping people out,” and that migrants needed regular, safe and affordable channels. He called for eliminating unethical migrant recruitment practices, adding that as long as smuggling is the only option for mobility, sealing the border and fighting smugglers are “red herrings.” AFL-CIO said that any new commitment on migration must empower workers to exercise their rights, and that the compact must give workers at all skill levels a real chance at family unification and permanent migration. With regard to many countries’ employer-controlled visa systems, he said, the pathway for migrants may be regular, but “I ask all of you, are they safe?”

Nigeria stressed that when migration is caused by terrorism, climate change, and violent political upheavals, human movements cannot be safe, regular and orderly. Philippines said the compact should have a mechanism to ensure that the benefits of migration reach countries of origin, transit and destination, while ensuring accountability for all three categories of countries with regard to migrants’ rights and access to social services. Philippines also supported greater harmonization among all three country categories, especially with regard to the documentation of migrants. South Africa said commitments toward the global compact must be accompanied by tangible resource mobilization and concrete interventions by developed countries to relieve pressures on developing countries.

Closing Remarks

Giving closing remarks, Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General, proposed to take stock “in some form” in a year’s time to ensure that the international community is on track for meeting its objectives by 2018. UNGA President Peter Thomson said the commitments expressed during the meeting must be swiftly fulfilled, the human rights of refugees and migrants must be protected, and racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance must be countered.

The Summit preceded the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, hosted by US President Barack Obama, alongside Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden. The Summit was held at the margins of the UNGA on 20 September 2016. [HLM Website] [New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants] [Statements] [IISD RS Story on the Opening of the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants] [UN Meeting Coverage] [IISD RS Sources] [Statement of Deputy UNSG] [UNDP Statement] [IFAD Press Release]

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