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The UN's Global Compact for Migration: An interview with Louise Arbour

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by Romnick Villanueva

In March 2017, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Louise Arbour of Canada as his Special Representative for International Migration. Ms Arbour previously served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. From 2009 to 2014, she was President and CEO of the International Crisis Group. She is a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and among her many awards and distinctions she was the 2000 recipient of the World Peace Award presented by WFM – Canada.

MONDIAL: The 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants covered the situations of all persons who are forced to flee and the countries that shelter them, whether they be “refugees” or “migrants.” Now the international community is developing two separate “global compacts,” a Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and a Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, through the UN General Assembly in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration. Is there a logic to this bifurcated process? What is the rationale for two processes, and two (anticipated) global compacts in 2018?

ARBOUR: Indeed, in September 2016, the Member States of the United Nations came together unanimously to adopt the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. This declaration was a strong endorsement of the need for greater international cooperation on the issue of human mobility, and laid the ground towards two global compacts to be adopted in 2018; one for refugees and the other for safe, orderly and regular migration.

The Global Compact on Refugees, overseen by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, aims at helping the global community find more equitable ways to share the responsibility for refugees, including support to the countries and communities who host them. It will be based on the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

The Global Compact for Migration, for its part, will be the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration in a comprehensive manner. In contrast to the Refugee Convention, it will be a non-legally binding instrument, expressing a series of objectives and commitments designed to increase international cooperation. It will, in short, aim to ensure that the decision people make to move is taken freely, can be executed safely, and is for the benefit of all: the migrants themselves; their community of origin; and their place of destination. It will also strive to protect migrants in vulnerable situations and tackle the drivers of irregular migration.

While the two processes are separate and distinct, the international community’s ability to better manage human mobility rests on both compacts being mutually reinforcing and as strong as possible: widelysupported, forward-looking, and human rights centered, and with the needs of those most vulnerable firmly at their heart.

MONDIAL: As the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for International Migration, you have a pivotal role as the Secretary-General of the intergovernmental conference that seeks to adopt a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, this December at a conference in Marrakech. The preparations seem at a glance to be quite robust and extensive – including (phase one) six separate intergovernmental consultations, (phase two) a stocktaking meeting hosted by Mexico, and now (phase three) a process of intergovernmental negotiations, which began in February and are set to conclude in July. Of course “it ain’t over until it’s over” but what can you tell us about the likely positive outcomes from such a process?

ARBOUR: International migration has grown exponentially in recent decades. Today, over 258 million migrants live outside their country of birth, up from 173 million in 2000, increasing its percentage as a portion of the world’s population from 2.8% to 3.4%.

Women make up nearly half of all migrants around the world. The number of migrants is expected to continue to grow as a result of trade, globalization and the emerging tools of communication and transportation, in addition to rising inequality and environmental issues. There is therefore an urgent need to foster international cooperation for safe, orderly and regular migration.

The process to adopt the GCM has been a complex undertaking, but one that has highlighted a strong consensus and commitment within the international community to improve the governance of migration, address challenges, and strengthen the contribution of migrants and migration to sustainable development. Indeed, by anchoring migration in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the international community has recognized that international migration, despite occasional strains, has an overwhelmingly positive economic, social and cultural impact, and that these benefits can and should be maximized for all concerned.

Increasingly today, most countries are at one and the same time countries of origin, transit and destination, and this creates a community of interest in managing human mobility. However, national interests also often diverge, and consensus is not always easy to attain on issues that are tackled for the first time in the UN. This two-year process has created a broadbased understanding of the complexities of migration

and a willingness to work cooperatively on an issue that is at the intersection of state sovereignty and interdependence.

It is important to remember that this Global Compact will be forward-looking, with a promise of review and follow-up over several years. I would equate this process to the international community’s engagement on environmental issues, which began with the Rio Summit in 1992 and culminated with the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2016.

MONDIAL: In many of your speeches you speak of the need for “tailor-made and context specific solutions.” So the Compact – a non-binding instrument – would offer a compendium of desirable initiatives that states could consider. Is there a risk here that the Global Compact creates the appearance of governments doing something about a high profile problem, while achieving little more than endorsing “business as usual.” Is there any accountability process likely to be part of the follow up?

ARBOUR: While the Compact may not be legally binding, it is a political engagement on the part of Member States to cooperate in addressing the inevitability of migration while managing expectations through a fair process that will best respond to all interests, often competing ones. This is a pragmatic pursuit, which does not preclude being a principled one.

In addition, I believe that the objective of enhancing safe and orderly migration is very much rooted in the rule of law, in the broad sense of the term – as a fair and orderly organization of our interactions with each other, as individuals, and as groups of individuals.

The objective of putting in place enhanced international cooperation on the many aspects of migration reflects this vision of the rule of law. We are set to improve the lives of millions of migrant workers and their contribution to our communities; to reduce recourse to dangerous channels of migration and to maximize the convergence of our values with our interests.

The success of the Global Compact will rest on the extent of states’ political and moral buy-in, and the broader support that it will generate. As such, the compact should contain specifics for early concrete action; lay the ground for intensified cooperation at all levels; and provide for means by which to gauge progress. And the text of the Global Compact so far includes elements for implementation, follow-up and review over the next several years, promising a level of accountability. But the compact cannot be, and should not be, the end point. Just as human migration has always been with us, so it always will be. The global compact should aspire to be a living document,

forward looking, flexible and adaptable.

MONDIAL: Many people would be surprised to learn that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is not a UN agency. But it seems that with the global compact, that is about to change as the IOM takes on a closer legal and working relationship with the UN as a “related organization.” Is this significant in your view? What do you see as the benefits of bringing the IOM into the UN family in this way?

ARBOUR: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is very much part of the UN system; in fact, it has been a related organization since September 2016. It is already firmly integrated in many UN coordination and funding mechanisms from the global to the country level and it is of course at the frontline of most migration-related issues.

IOM will be even more fully and centrally integrated in the UN system going forward, in particular in the context of the implementation, follow-up and review of the Global Compact.

Indeed, the UN Secretary-General has decided to create a UN Migration Network, to more effectively bring together all parts of the UN system to support the efforts of the Member States on migration. IOM will serve as the coordinator of the network, working

very closely with other UN entities that have complementary capacity, expertise and experience and in full accordance with UN principles and values. Coordination of this network will aim at ensuring that we are able to match – system-wide – expertise, mandates and capacities with function in response to the needs of the Member States in implementing the Global Compact.

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