A U.N. framework for migration
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World leaders slated to adopt a U.N. agreement
on protection of migrants as well as refugees

Leaders from more than 190 countries are scheduled to adopt the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” during meetings in Morocco Dec. 10 and 11. This is the first time that member states of the United Nations will join an agreement covering all dimensions of international migration in a comprehensive manner.

There are two global compacts in the works—one on refugees and one on migration. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is still working on the final version of the compact on refugees and is scheduled to present it to the U.N. General Assembly by the end of the year.

The text for the migration compact was finalized in July after nearly two years of consultations and negotiations among U.N. member states, representatives from civil society (including Maryknoll missioners), local officials and migrants themselves.

Stories of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats and the U.S.-Mexico border on foot are regularly in the news. While the media frequently uses the terms “refugee” and “migrant” interchangeably, there is a vast difference in the legal protection given the two different groups.

Refugees are defined as people who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence or other circumstances that require international protection. This definition comes from the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.

While most experts agree that an international migrant is someone who leaves his or her country of origin, often because of similar dangerous situations, there is no formal legal definition of a migrant and migrants have no guarantee of legal protection.

The global compact on migration states, “Refugees and migrants are entitled to the same universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, which must be respected, protected and fulfilled at all times.” Though not legally binding, the compact offers a framework to improve cooperation between countries receiving and sending migrants and aims to keep migrant workers safe, protect their labor rights and promote safe and secure working environments.

This compact is a chance for the U.N. to shift world opinion on the need to address migration in a proactive, humane manner.

The Trump administration pulled the United States out of the global compact on migration in December 2017. Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said it was “not compatible with U.S. sovereignty.”

Pope Francis has expressed his full support for the compacts on refugees and migration. In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this past January, Pope Francis centered his message around four verbs with regard to migrants and refugees: welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating. He urged that his message be shared “with all political and social actors involved (or who seek to be involved) in the process which will lead to the approval of the two global compacts.”

Faith in action:
• Read and share Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. http://bit.ly/PopeFrancisCompact
• Write your elected officials Share with them the link to the pope’s message and let them know that you support the United States signing the Global Compact on Migration. Find contact information for all your elected officials at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
• Write U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to let her know that you disagree with her position and urge her to attend the International Migration Conference in Morocco in December and to sign the Global Compact on Migration. https://usun.state.gov/contact

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, based in Washington, D.C., is a resource for Maryknoll on matters of peace, social justice and integrity of creation, and brings Maryknoll’s mission experience into U.S. policy discussions. Phone (202) 832-1780, visit www.maryknollogc.org or email ogc@maryknoll.org.

Featured Image: Migrants arrive on a makeshift boat to the Mediterranean island of Alboran, Spain. (CNS//Spanish Defense Ministry handout via Reuters)


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About the author

Susan Gunn

Susan Gunn is director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.