A Historic Victory for the UN: Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees Adopted This Week

By Nayla Rush on December 20, 2018

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was officially adopted Wednesday by the United Nations General Assembly in New York, two days after the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees. The successful adoption of both compacts concludes a two-year process that began with the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and is a historic victory for UN efforts to regulate migrant and refugee flows on a global level.

The migration compact was adopted by a recorded vote of 152 in favor to five against (Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Poland, and United States), with 12 abstentions (Algeria, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Italy, Latvia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Romania, Singapore, and Switzerland). 24 countries did not vote: Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Benin, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Dominican Republic, Guinea, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Micronesia, Panama, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Slovenia, Somalia, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Vanuatu.

This means that 41 out of the 193 UN member states chose not to endorse this migration compact. The number of skeptics grew from December 10 when 33 countries did not participate in an intergovernmental conference to adopt the migration compact in Marrakesh, Morocco.

By comparison, the Global Compact on Refugees got more support (perhaps because of the humanitarian aspect of refugee crises). It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Monday by a recorded vote of 181 in favor to two against (United States and Hungary), with three abstentions (Eritrea, Libya, Dominican Republic). Seven countries did not vote: Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Israel, Micronesia, Nauru, Poland, Tonga, and Turkmenistan.

Only the United States and Hungary voted no on both compacts. Israel and Poland voted no on the migration compact but did not vote on the refugee one. Czech Republic voted no on the migration compact and yes on the refugee one. Dominican Republic did not vote on the migration compact but abstained from the refugee one. Libya abstained from both compacts. Eritrea voted yes on the migration compact but abstained from the refugee one. Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Micronesia, Tonga and Turkmenistan did not vote on both.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi welcomed the adoption of the Migration Compact: "The effective implementation of both compacts will help reinforce the objectives of the other." The two compacts are indeed interconnected. Those who decided to opt out of one compact should logically have opted out of the other as well; both are based on the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. Both migrant and refugee rights are now set to fall under a new model of international lawmaking.

Under the UN rule, migration and refugee policies will be guided by "multilateralism" (after multiculturalism showed its limits). Human mobility (for migrants and refugees alike) will never be regulated the same, including for nations who opposed the compacts.

(Note: This post was updated with a quote from Grandi.)

Topics: Refugees