US Is Still Part of the 'Global Compact on Refugees'

By Nayla Rush on December 14, 2017

The United States withdrew earlier this month from the "Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration" – but not from the accompanying "Global Compact on Refugees".

I commented yesterday on the Trump administration's decision to end its participation in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – also known simply as the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) – two days before a preparatory meeting in Mexico City. While this move came as no surprise, I think the administration missed an opportunity to attend this multinational gathering and make a case to world leaders for its approach to migration.

Some background: 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. After consultations with member states and other relevant stakeholders, the presentation and adoption of both compacts is expected to take place during the 73rd UN General Assembly in September 2018.

I also noted in my post yesterday that the U.S. Mission to the UN, in announcing withdrawal from the migration compact, did not mention whether the U.S. was also withdrawing from the refugee compact (a distinct but related process). It was easy to assume the Trump administration was dropping out from both compacts; the left-leaning French newspaper Le Monde, for instance, ran the headline "The United States withdraws from a global pact for refugees".

But the absence of a direct mention to pull out from both compacts left me skeptical. A quick search showed that the U.S. was, in fact, still committed to the refugee compact. Just this week, with no fanfare, the U.S. took part in a key meeting at the UNHCR in Geneva to lay the groundwork and start the drafting of the Global Compact for Refugees. This "High Commissioner's 10th Dialogue on Protection Challenges" meeting brought together some 500 representatives from governments, civil society, private sector, financial institutions, academics, and refugees themselves.

The State Department's Simon Henshaw represented the United States in Tuesday's thematic session on "Meeting needs and supporting communities". In the absence of a political appointee, Henshaw is in charge of the department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

The Geneva meeting is an important step towards the drawing up of a final Global Compact for Refugees. In the meeting's opening remarks, the head of UNHCR, Filipo Grandi, saw in the compact for refugees a chance to chart a different course for refugee protection and "change the way the international community engages with refugee issues." He noted that:

[a]t a time when multilateralism is under great pressure, and often neglected, put aside and criticized as inefficient, we want the global compact on refugees to chart a different course – through concrete engagement, but also cooperation based on shared values.

Grandi also maintained "that a failure of international cooperation has undermined protection for those fleeing conflict and persecution in the form of closed borders, restricted access, and the politicization of refugee and migration issues."

Given that the negotiations are taking place in this context, the United States' discreet participation in the Global Compact for Refugees is definitely worth keeping an eye on.


Topics: Refugees