The Global Compact for Migration: A Framework of Security and Justice


The global compact for migration is the first, intergovernmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. Following extensive consultations, a text for the Compact has been agreed and is to be adopted at an Intergovernmental Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, 10 – 11 December this year.

Despite the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, international institutions remain strong in their ability to promote and maintain international social order and to secure rights for vulnerable populations.  In 1948, the Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”  Today, thanks largely to international institutions such as the UN, human rights and freedoms are widely recognized as essential to maintaining peace and security.  True peace requires not just security, but right relationships—and for this goodwill, understanding, and a recognition of common moral principles are necessary.  Multilateral successes such as The Global Compact for Migration demonstrate that international cooperation continues to effectively address global problems, ensuring international security within a culture of moral integrity.

The compact establishes an international framework for migration and addresses the rights of migrants as well as the concerns of governments and local populations.  It provides a unifying framework of principles, commitments, and understandings that benefit all stakeholders, but especially migrants whose human rights and security are most at stake.

There are an estimated 258 million international migrants in the world[1], and the circumstances of their migration are varied and complex—often involving family ties, and issues of  trade, economics, war, gender, or human rights. An international framework which considers all types of migration and the rights of all stakeholders is needed as governments seek to respond to current pressures. 

With a basis in international human rights law, the compact “reaffirms the commitment to eliminate all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance against migrants and their families.”[2]  Of the 23 objectives outlined in the compact (listed below) all are concerned either directly or indirectly with the safety and security of migrants. This extends beyond physical safety to include economic security, employment rights, and the promotion of social cohesion.

Popular images of migration can be misleading arousing emotions of fear and resulting in unjust regulations and practices.  Regular migration, for instance, includes individuals on short-term work or student visas as well as permanent residents of foreign countries.  Irregular migration includes those who have overstayed a visa as well as those who intentionally seek to escape border controls.  The Compact addresses the multiple challenges facing all these varied and diverse groups.  It seeks to ensure safe, orderly, and regular migration so that all migration occurs as a matter of choice rather than from necessity.

Female migrants are at a particular risk for a variety of reasons, and the compact provides a framework to address the physical and economic abuses unique to women and girls.  At the same time, the compact pledges to address migrant women through a lens of empowerment as opposed to victimhood.

Children are particularly vulnerable and their right to healthcare and education must be addressed.  Children born to migrants are often left stateless and their right to a nationality is essential to their future existence.  The compact recognizes that unaccompanied children and those separated from their parents are at particular risk and seeks to guard them from exploitation.

To ensure “safe, regular, and orderly migration”, the rights of sovereign nations to choose who enters within their borders must be respected.  The Compact is a “non-legal binding, cooperative framework”, leaving member-states free to participate to the extent they choose. Yet, by creating a framework of policy, it establishes a framework of moral expectations to this diverse and complex issue. 

The economic benefits of a common  approach to migration should further appeal to states. The data clearly shows that while irregular migration results in economic and humanitarian burdens, regular migration provides a significant economic benefit to both the home and host countries.  It is therefore in the best interest of states to provide legal and accessible pathways for regular migration.  Contrary to what some would have us believe, there need not be any contradiction between moral and economic considerations.

The challenges of globalization and international interdependence are both challenging and unavoidable.  There are those who seek to solve these challenges by disentangling themselves from it and rebuking international cooperation entirely.  These fear-based responses offer nothing in solution, instead worsening the problem by avoidance.  The compact demonstrates what is possible when countries choose cooperation over isolation.  Global problems require global solutions, and these solutions become possible when the international order coalesces into a better functioning whole.

It is for this reason that international institutions exist, and while their role in maintaining peace and security is well known, they are also responsible for maintaining international social norms of morality and justice.  These norms are based not just on freedom and human rights, but also on cooperation and goodwill. These universal norms find their origins in the religious faiths and ethical traditions of all cultures.

Identity politics would have us believe that world problems threaten only one tribe, ideology, nation, or group.  World problems are, however, by definition, global issues.  Long-term solution depends upon the spirit of cooperation that lies at the heart of international institutions.  For lasting peace, what is needed is not just freedom and security but a culture that recognizes the inherent potential goodness of humanity.  Though it is human nature that frequently divides us, it is this same human nature that can bring us together.

NOTE: In a separate, but linked process, governments are also working at the United Nations towards a Global Compact on Refugees.

                  [1] “Trends in International Migration Stock: The 2017 Revision”. United Nations. POP/DB/MIG/Stock/Rev.2017
                  [2] “Global Compact For Migration, Final Draft”. Section 11.