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The Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will be adopted at the 2018 UN General Assembly, which is currently underway. These two landmark compacts grew out of the New York Declaration in 2016, at which 193 members committed to a number of measures to address migration, including the compacts. Over the past two years, both global compacts have undergone numerous iterations and changes in language. The process was led by Mexico and Switzerland. The United States withdrew from the compacts in December 2017.

Although they are ambitious in scope, both compacts have received significant criticism for failing to address key needs and concerns of migrants. Some have pointed out that the Compact on Migration prioritizes the sovereignty of states rather than the human right to migration, to the potential detriment of those on the move. Some have also expressed concern that the compact focuses too much on the economic factors that lead some migrants to flee, rather than pointing out the economic benefits that migration has for host countries. Critics have also raised the possibility that asylum seekers or internally displaced people could fall within the gaps between the two compacts, where their situation is not adequately addressed by either agreement.

In an opinion piece for Just Security, Linda Bishai, the director of Research, Evaluation and Learning at the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative shares her hopeful yet realistic interpretation of the two compacts.

International organizations, government officials, NGOs, activists, and scholars were all involved in developing the documents, but worked through separate, parallel processes to craft the two texts. That’s despite the fact that patterns of human movement today increasingly consist of “mixed migration” that includes both those who flee in well-founded fear for their lives (and can be legally defined as “refugees” entitled to seek asylum), and those who flee for multiple reasons but are no less desperately seeking better living conditions with more of the kinds of freedoms that the U.S. and its western partners have espoused.

The parallel processes reflect the intricate politics of trying to retain the significant protections guaranteed in the 1951 Refugee Convention, especially the principle of non-refoulement, which requires its 145 state parties to refrain from returning asylum-seekers to countries where their lives or freedom are imperiled. The clarity of definitions in the Refugee Convention, coupled with the legal obligations it carries as a treaty, entitle refugees to a kind of legal status in host countries that isn’t required to be granted to vulnerable and displaced migrants. Still, advocacy groups have criticized the Compact on Refugees as lacking in monitoring and accountability mechanisms.

Read the full piece here.

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