UNGA Votes to Adopt Global Compact on Refugees
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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On 17 December 2018, the UNGA adopted the Global Compact on Refugees.

The Compact comprises: i) an introduction setting out its background, guiding principles and objectives; ii) the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework; iii) a Programme of Action setting out concrete measures to help meet the objectives of the Compact; and iv) arrangements for follow-up and review.

The refugee compact was called for in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, along with the migration compact, which will come before the UNGA for endorsement on 19 December 2018.

17 December 2018: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has adopted the Global Compact on Refugees, following a consultation process including a series of thematic discussions and meetings in 2017, and formal consultations on successive drafts between February and July 2018. UNGA President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés noted that the adoption of the Compact marks the beginning, not the end, of the international community’s work to respond comprehensively “to the challenges that face refugees and their hosts.”

The Global Compact on Refugees was called for by the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which also called for a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. The latter was adopted by 164 governments in Marrakech, Morocco, on 10 December 2018, and is scheduled to be formally endorsed on 19 December 2018, in the UNGA Hall in New York, US.

The refugee compact, while not legally binding, seeks to strengthen the international response to large movements of refugees and protracted refugee situations, and to better define cooperation to share responsibilities. It builds on existing international law and standards, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and human rights treaties. The Compact comprises four parts: i) an introduction setting out the background, guiding principles and objectives of the compact; ii) the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), as agreed to by UN Member States in Annex I of the New York Declaration; iii) a Programme of Action setting out concrete measures to help meet the objectives of the Compact; and iv) arrangements for follow-up and review.

The Compact was presented to the UNGA in September 2018 as part of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ 2018 annual report, and was then discussed during a high-level ministerial event hosted by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). On 17 December 2018, the UNGA considered the Global Compact on Refugees as part of a resolution on the Office of the UNHCR, which was adopted with 181 votes in favor, two against and three abstentions.

In a media stakeout following the Compact’s adoption, Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, clarified that the US and Hungary had opposed the UNGA resolution containing the Compact. However, he added that in 2018 UNHCR received the highest contribution ever from the US. The three governments abstaining from the vote were Eritrea, Liberia and Libya.

Also on 17 December, following the UNGA meeting to adopt the Compact, UNHCR hosted an event to mark the agreement. Espinosa said that through this agreement, the UNGA demonstrates its efficacy and utility, and cements its role as the ‘Parliament of Humanity.’ She added that low and middle-income countries host over 80% of all refugees.

The refugee compact contains four elements of particular importance for achieving the SDGs, including measures to ease pressures on host countries.

Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, on behalf of the UN Secretary-General, outlined four elements of the Compact that are particularly important for achieving the SDGs. She noted that the Compact: i) sets out concrete measures to share the responsibility and ease the pressure on the small number of countries that host the majority of refugees; ii) seeks to bring humanitarian and development action closer together, building on the UN Secretary-General’s reform of the UN development system; iii) provides ways to create jobs and livelihoods, and recognizes that refugees and host communities themselves must be at the center of decision-making on refugee issues; and iv) calls on the international community as a whole to take broader initiatives to prevent conflict and build sustained peace.

Grandi noted that it was the first time there was such a concerted effort to reach an agreement on refugees at the UNGA. He reported that 15 countries have rolled out the Compact’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which he said has mobilized US$6.5 billion that would have not been accessible through traditional finances.

On next steps, Grandi highlighted that the Global Refugee Forum will take place in 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland, to take stock of the Compact’s commitments and achievements. He noted the need to plan for this event.

Via video messages, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Foreign Minister of Turkey, said the international community has not done enough to help refugees, and should also strengthen support to host countries and communities. Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stressed the importance of shared responsibility and partnerships to respond to the refugee crisis, adding that the EU and its member States comprise the largest donor worldwide.

Bertine Bahige, a Congolese refugee resettled in the US, remarked that all refugees are looking for hope, and are victims of circumstances they have not chosen. Talking about his experience spending five years in a refugee camp in Mozambique, he said he had felt safe and was given access to resources, but wished he could have had access to education and given the possibility to start building his life. [Meeting Webcast] [Meeting Summary] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [Global Compact on Refugees, as contained in UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ Annual Report to UNGA] [UNHCR Press Release on Refugee Compact Agreement in UNGA] [UN News on Refugee Compact Adoption] [Briefing of Spokesperson of UNGA President] [Global Compact on Refugees Website]

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