Geneva: More than 160 countries adopted a sweeping international accord on migration on Tuesday, after the United Nations secretary general robustly defended against the “myths” and falsehoods that critics had directed at the deal.
Addressing a two-day conference in Morocco, the secretary general, António Guterres, noted that disinformation had inflamed debate on the accord — the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration — and had encouraged a rash of rejections by some governments.
The 165 countries gathered in Marrakesh approved the agreement by consensus, defying the United States and other countries that had withdrawn, citing concerns about migrant flows and national sovereignty.
The decision in Marrakesh is the culmination of nearly two years of consultations and negotiations to produce an accord to promote international cooperation in handling migration. It will return to the United Nations next week to be formally adopted by the General Assembly.
The text of the accord was approved in July by every member of the United Nations except the United States. But it has since gotten caught up in a nationalist movement in Europe that has centered on the issue of immigration and prompted around a dozen countries to reject the compact outright, or to pull back from endorsing it in Morocco.
Guterres dismissed as “myth No. 1” the idea that the accord would force countries to adopt migrant-friendly laws and regulations. The compact is not legally binding, but instead proposes a road map for cooperation that explicitly recognizes state sovereignty and governments’ rights to decide their own immigration policies.
Moreover, Guterres said, regulated migration is needed if developed countries are to maintain economic growth when they face declining birthrates and aging populations. Coordinated action can also combat the high human cost of unregulated migration, which is exploited by predatory smugglers.
More than 60,000 migrants have died in hazardous journeys while trying to reach wealthier countries, Guterres said. “This is a source of collective shame,” he added.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, a 34-page document, asserts that “no state can address migration alone” and outlines 23 objectives. They include the collection of better data on the movement of migrants, the strengthening of legal paths to migration, efforts to combat human trafficking and cooperation to ease the safe return of migrants to their countries of origin.
“It doesn’t say migration is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s a thing,” Louise Arbour, the United Nations official who led negotiations on the compact, told reporters in Geneva last week, emphasizing the need for the international community to address and mitigate that global reality.
Work began after members of the United Nations, including the United States under President Barack Obama, approved a declaration in 2016 saying that no country could manage international migration alone, and agreed to work on a pact. But the Trump administration withdrew its support a year ago, saying that parts of the compact were “inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies.”
Under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a fiercely anti-immigrant leader, Hungary has dismissed the compact as a “pro-migration document.” Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia have also rejected the compact, as have Australia and Israel.
Over the weekend, the government of Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium lost its majority in Parliament after its biggest coalition partner, the right-wing Flemish party, left in opposition to the planned approval of the migration agreement.
Slovakia’s foreign minister, Miroslav Lajcak, who presided at the United Nations General Assembly in July when the organization adopted the compact, said last week that he would resign after the country’s Parliament rejected the accord.
Switzerland said in October that it would approve the pact but reversed course a month later, saying that it would not attend the conference in Morocco or adopt the compact until its national Parliament had debated the issue. Days later, Italy, now led by a right-wing anti-immigrant government, took the same position and said it would not sign anything until lawmakers had their say.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has vocally defended the migration agreement in the German Parliament, but she has faced criticism for her stance on immigration from members of her party and, like her counterparts in France and the Netherlands, she faces pressure from parties on the far right.