The Global Compact on Refugees Draft Raises Many Concerns

By Nayla Rush on May 2, 2018

The second draft of the Global Compact on Refugees was released recently. As I skimmed through the document, a number of statements caught my attention that suggest an effort to stretch and expand the concepts underlying refugee resettlement.

Before I share those, a few words on how this compact came to be.

Following unanimous adoption of the "New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants" by UN member states (including the United States) in September 2016, two separate compacts were set in motion: the Global Compact for Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. The presentation and adoption of both compacts is expected to take place during the 73rd UN General Assembly in September 2018 following consultations with member states and other relevant stakeholders.

The United States withdrew from the "Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration "but not from the accompanying "Global Compact on Refugees". The Draft 2 of the compact on refugees was just released after a third round of consultation on April 10-11. The fourth formal consultation is scheduled for May 8-10.

Key points in the compact's latest draft that I believe are worthy of further scrutiny:

The very concept of resettlement has been expanded:

Apart from being a tool for protection of and solutions for refugees, resettlement is also a tangible mechanism for burden- and responsibility-sharing, allowing States to help share each other's burdens and reduce the impact of large refugee situations on host countries. [Page 20; emphasis added.]

Similarly, a memo summarizing changes in the second draft notes that "easing pressure on host countries (and not adding to them) is a key objective of the compact as a whole".

Resettlement, therefore, is no longer just a protection tool designed to assist those who are, in the US State Department's words, "especially vulnerable; those who fled violence or persecution and cannot safely stay where they are or return home", such as "single mothers, survivors of torture, people who need urgent medical treatment, religious minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons, or others imperiled by violence and persecution." It is now, also, a responsibility-sharing mechanism put in place to help host countries with the "burdens" they face. But how is resettling a few thousands refugees out of the millions already there is going to affect host countries? And, since resettlement is no longer exclusively geared towards refugee protection, how are those candidates for resettlement selected?

In addition, the following "good practices" are set out:

  • "resettlement of at least 25 per cent of annual resettlement submissions within six months of UNHCR referral, including through the use of flexible processing modalities that fully account for security concerns." (Page 21; emphasis added.)
  • ensuring that resettlement is used strategically… by allocating places for the resettlement of refugees from at least three priority situations identified by UNHCR … including one protracted situation; or dedicating at least 10 per cent of resettlement submissions as unallocated places for emergency or urgent cases identified by UNHCR." (Page 21; emphasis added.)
  • the use of platforms for "emergency processing for resettlement", and emergency transit facilities. (Page 13.) Footnote 65 says "Issuance of single voyage convention travel documents for the purposes of facilitating evacuation may be required. This could be facilitated by UNHCR on an exceptional basis."

Finally, other pathways for admission to third countries, as "complement to resettlement," are encouraged. The compact is pushing for "the establishment of simplified procedures and clear referral pathways to facilitate access to family reunification." (Page 21; emphasis added.) As noted in opening remarks at the April meeting, this also "encompasses expanding the criteria for family reunification to include extended family members who would not otherwise be eligible under existing mechanisms." (Emphasis added.)

All these stretches – redefining resettlement beyond urgent refugee protection; pushing for faster and more flexible resettlement processing modalities; expanding the criteria for family reunification and including new extended family members – and probably many more need to be studied closely before the United States agrees to the Global Compact on Refugees. I hope the administration is doing just that.

Topics: Refugees