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The Plan We Need: United Nations Global Compact for Migration
The Plan We Need: United Nations Global Compact for Migration

Over the past few months, we have watched the conservative UN estimates of people forced to migrate climb from 60-68 million, the largest number of forced migrants since the Second World War.  Some estimate even more forced migrants now than there were in WWII.  Whatever the current number is, we are certain it will increase due to climate change, rising nationalism, and continuing conflicts and tensions. 

We need a plan.  We need a global plan.  The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration is that plan, if we will only embrace it.

Photo of the UN Special Representative for International Migration, alongside other diplomats at the UN.

Louise Arbour (left), Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for International Migration, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (center) and Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly (right), attend a special event for the approval of text for a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, at UN Headquarters in New York, 13 July 2018.

At the end of WWII, the world developed a very restrictive definition of refugee/asylum seeker as one who has a well-founded fear of (government) persecution due to their status in a particular religion, race, or social class.  It is clear that the framers of this convention on refugees had the experience of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe in mind.  However, over 70 years on, there are others factors that force people from their homes. 

We need to be clear about the issue.  We are not talking about people who have a fairly decent and safe life deciding to move to another more prosperous country that offers more opportunity.  This is often the picture we have of migrants crossing our borders.  We can just send them back and they will be alright.

However, that is not the subject of our discussion.  We are talking about people who have no choice but to move.  Many in Central America must flee or be killed by drug lords who used to operate in the USA and have been deported.  Make no mistake; the global drug problem is largely fueled by American demand for those drugs.  The innocent children, women, and men who are at risk are in danger because of drug issues in America.  They need a safe haven.

There are people who live on islands whose island nations are being inundated by rising sea levels due to climate change, caused by our polluting the air.  These island peoples contributed very little to climate change, but they are suffering the loss of their homelands.  They need a safe place of refuge for themselves and their families. 

There are people who are farmers who find the rains have stopped and they can no longer make a living.  They must leave the land which no longer provides them with a living.

There are people in Syria whose ancient towns are rubble and the government is intent on killing them.  They must flee with their children or be killed.

There are Rohingya in Myanmar who have lived there for generations and who had legal status in the country.  Now the government says they have no status in the country and they are being killed.  They need protection.

Often neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh where the Rohingya are fleeing, don’t have the resources to help, or Lebanon with a Syrian refugee population which comprises 25% of the inhabitants of Lebanon, or Sudanese refugees fleeing war to Uganda.  These nations can’t cope with these refugee populations.  Yet the developed, wealthy countries refuse to take these migrants. 

We need a plan.  All migrants forced from their homes need a safe place to go, with schools for their children, food, shelter, and ways to earn a decent living in safety.  The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR will designate a small percentage of these forced migrants with urgent needs to resettle in developed nations willing to accommodate them.  For the rest, however, the developed world must provide the resources to help the hosting nations provide for food, shelter, schools and income generating opportunities for migrants where they are. 

Our planet is small and resources in ever shorter supply.  We need global solutions to these global problems. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration sets a framework for countries as they construct their own migration policies – one that takes into account the human rights of all displaced people, even those who don’t qualify for the specific legal protection as refugees. The Global Compact for Migration was finalized on Friday, July 13 with all UN Member States participating except the U.S., and will be open for adoption at a conference in Morocco in December. Just last week, Hungary has joined the U.S. and withdrawn from the adoption process – further emphasizing the extreme threats to migrants’ human rights in the world right now.

Although the U.S. government seems uninterested in adopting the Global Compact come December, migration justice activists and organizers can nevertheless use the language within the Global Compact to put pressure upon local and state governments, businesses, and other organizations that have dealings with migration and detention systems. This Global Compact shows what 191 countries in the world agree ought to be the standards used in how countries treat people on the move. It includes stipulations relating to use of detention only as a last resort (Objective 13), as well as relating to the principle of non-refoulement (Objective 21) which prohibits nations from “returning migrants when there is a real and foreseeable risk of death, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, or other irreparable harm.” These and other objectives of the Global Compact, if enforced, will ensure that migration has a positive impact in the world for all.  A Global Compact on Refugees is currently under development by UNHCR and will be proposed to the UN General Assembly in September.  

Your Unitarian Universalist office at the United Nations is working with the rest of the world to find those solutions.  Please support your office at the United Nations and support the United Nations by insisting that your country pays for the vital work done by the United Nations to solve the global migration crisis, solve climate change, control and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, end poverty, end hunger, ensure gender equity, and provide a better world for us all. 

About the Author

  • Bruce Knotts is the Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. He was born and raised in Southern California. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Pepperdine University and his Master’s Degree in International Education from the Monterey Institute of...

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