Global Compacts on Refugees and Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration: Opportunities for Multilateralism


Within a week and just in time for International Migrants Day, the international community has adopted both the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. The adoption of the UN’s compacts is an important step to manage migration more effectively and humanely, as well as reduce irregular migration, says MEDAM migration expert Matthias Lücke. Provided they are successfully implemented.

Throughout human history, migration has been the norm, a means to overcome adversity and to seek a better life. Today, globalization, technical advances in communications and transportation have greatly increased the number of people who have the desire and capacity to migrate. Unforeseeable, complex, and often mixed with elements of emergency, the challenges of international migration need to be addressed by enhanced cooperation and collective actions–as poorly regulated, migration has shown to intensify divisions within and between societies, and expose refugees and other migrants to exploitation and abuse.

In September 2016, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the New York Declaration in which member states agreed to cooperate more closely to manage migration, and to protect the rights of refugees and other migrants. To do so, the member states decided to create the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in two parallel processes. Following thematic and regional consultations with various actors, including for the first time civil society actors, drafts of the Global Compacts were agreed on in 2018 and finally adopted in December.

The Global Compact for Migration focuses on the fight against irregular migration and the creation of legal migration channels, while the Global Compact on Refugees sets out four objectives. Member states agreed to

  • ease the pressures on host countries,
  • enhance refugee self-reliance,
  • expand access to third-country solutions, and
  • support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.

MEDAM researcher Matthias Lücke, who was accredited for and invited to participate in the consultation processes for both compacts, emphasizes that the Global Compacts constitute an important step to manage migration in the interest of the countries of origin as well as destination. “Though not legally binding, the Global Compacts nonetheless send out an important message, establishing frameworks for international cooperation to deal with the international challenge of migration in a more efficient and more humane manner.”

Yet, the increased migrant numbers–both for refugees and other migrants–have been met with mixed emotions in many destination countries, and anti-immigration movements seized the opportunity to campaign against the compacts–resulting in some member states refraining from signing.

In Europe though, the legal framework has long been provided by several international frameworks as the Geneva Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights as well as national constitutions such as the German ‘Grundgesetz’. Here, new legally binding agreements are therefore not necessary, and the compacts will actually not create additional rights for migrants. Rather, the compacts’ potential is of particular importance in countries which yet lack such legislation in their national constitutions or where existing international law is not or only poorly implemented. “The compacts should serve as a roadmap to improve the conditions for refugees and other migrants. With many of these countries being countries of first asylum or transfer, the Global Compacts might even reduce migration flows to Europe–the main goal of the compacts’ opponents–by strengthening regional integration within Africa and other developing regions”, explains Lücke. “The crucial point though remains implementation.”

Further Information:

“To reduce irregular migration, destination countries should commit to creating more regular migration opportunities.” Written submission to the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration consultation phase.

“To facilitate regular migration by workers with vocational skills, UN member states should cooperate to establish mutually recognized standards and curricula for vocational education and provide vocational training.” Written submission to the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration consultation phase.

“Regional Integration and Migration between Low-and-Middle-Income Countries: Regional initiatives need to be strengthened.” G20 Insights Policy Brief

“More Financial Burden-Sharing for Developing Countries that Host Refugees.” G20 Insights Policy Brief


Media Contact