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The pick & mix of the Global Compact for Migration: What will happen after its implementation?


Prophesying is always a tricky business and predicting the impact of the Global Compact for Migration is no exception. It’s not only a matter of judging which (if any) of the 23 objectives will come true and which will exit the world stage without leaving a trace. The overall judgment depends on deciding what the Compact is about. This article examines three widespread interpretations of the Migration Compact before outlining what is going to determine its future.


Broadly speaking, there are three views which dominate in analyses of the Compact. They see the document as 1) toothless and a waste of paper; 2) subversive instrument which will ruin signatories’ migration policies; 3) major achievement which moves the global conversation on migration in the right direction.


Protagonists of the first view highlight that large global players do not support the Compact. They dismiss the 23 objectives and 187 actions as wishful thinking and judge the Compact “dead on arrival”, another document to be ignored by UN member states. In short, they believe the question of its impact is irrelevant because the Compact itself is irrelevant.


The second approach sees the Compact as an enemy to nation-states and their sovereignty. Australian Prime Minister argued that the Compact would undermine Australian migration policies by reversing ‘hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade’. It would infringe on states’ privilege to decide who can cross their borders and make their protection harder. Czech Prime Minister dismissed the Migration Compact as unclear and open to dangerous misinterpretation. According to this view, the Compact will translate into an erosion of sovereignty of its signatories, a loss of control, and adverse and uncalled-for changes to their migration policies.


Supporters of the third view see the Compact as a remarkable achievement which at long last established a global consensus on managing international migration. They argue that it provides an excellent foundation for states to work together because it clearly sets out expectations and obligations. They expect that thanks to the Migration Compact, interested states will find it easier to get support for their migration-tackling initiatives and, hopefully, others will join them as they get inspired.


The three interpretations lead to three very different outcomes. Which one will prevail? It is reasonable to dismiss the second as unrealistic at best. By its very nature, the Compact is a non-binding agreement. States cannot be forced to implement any of its objectives, nor can they be compelled to interpret it in a certain way. They are not obliged to change their migration policies; in fact, the Compact reaffirms states’ sovereignty over governing migration and recognises that implementation will differ between countries. We can safely predict that the Compact will not become a threat to nation-states. Yet the question remains, will it change anything?


To begin, we need to acknowledge that at least some of the objectives will most likely never be realised. All forms of discrimination will probably never be eliminated and societies will never be fully inclusive and cohesive. Other objectives, such as ending trafficking, are part of different international agreements and do not bring anything new. However, that does not make the Compact meaningless or a failure.


The Compact provides a set of guidelines and makes clear the directions in which states agreed to move when governing international migration. More tangibly, it sets up a platform in the United Nations where states can receive advice and financial support for their projects, exchange knowledge, and access relevant data. While it does not set any timelines for its objectives, it establishes a review mechanism, the International Migration Review Forum, which will meet every four years beginning in 2022 to facilitate dialogue and review implementation. This should ensure that states continue to cooperate in addressing migration and keep talking to each other in a neutral space.


Ultimately, the fate of the Compact depends on states, as the text itself acknowledges. It remains to be seen whether they will view it as a helpful tool to draw on, ignore it, or shun it as a threat to their sovereignty. Essentially, the Migration Compact offers a pick & mix menu from which states choose objectives and then decide how to put them in practice. At worst, states will ignore the menu and the Compact will fade into insignificance. At best, the Compact will be a springboard from which many more dialogues and agreements will follow, leading to an increase in global cooperation and a change of mindsets towards seeing migration more holistically. That would be a worthy achievement.

Margaret Koudelkova

Markéta grew up in a small town in the Czech Republic. Her time in academia started at Charles University in Prague with a degree in International Area Studies, she also spent one year in Leeds as an Erasmus exchange student. In July, she graduated from the University of Oxford with an MSc in Migration Studies. She is currently working at a non-profit in Somerset. Apart from volunteering and reading on (post)secularism, she spends her free time looking for J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpieces she has not yet read.

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