Puerto Vallarta: The way to the Global Compact for Migration

A thought to all the people of this planet who will never have the chance, or the means, to travel to this seaside resort at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Let them know that on this earth, there are places where the middle and upper classes enjoy their holidays by consuming all the pleasures that the tropics can bring them, all day long. This is often on the back of the poorer natives, who are transformed into docile servants tasked with taking care of tourists. This is Puerto Vallarta, the small Mexican village that has become a popular tourist destination for Canadian, American and European tourists, with its large hotels, holiday clubs and shopping centers, as well as all the social and environmental damage that consumer tourism can bring.

Faced with the complexity of the world’s problems, policy makers also often find themselves in these paradises, far from population centers, to reflect on the fate of humanity. Migration, a trivial and natural occurrence since humans first appeared on earth, has become one of these global problems. The paradox is that in the twenty-first century, with all  our evolution and demonstrations of the power of man over nature, the simple fact that a human being wants to leave a place and settle in another has become a global drama, to the point that these meetings are multiplying, at a cost of millions of dollars, to find “solutions” to “migratory movements”. Is migration really so dangerous to the future of our planet?

From New York…

In September 2015, by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN Member states agreed by 2030 to “reduce inequalities in and across countries (SDG 10) . But above all, they endorsed “facilitating migration and mobility in an orderly, safe, regular and responsible manner, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies”. (SDG Target 10.7). By accepting this target, states recognize implicitly the inequalities that exist in terms of migration and especially mobility. As is well known, people are not considered equal according to their passport. Indeed, this inequality is very unfair as we do not choose the place where we are born, nor the parents who conceive us. But due to this first decision of nature, an inequality appears which denies billions of people on this earth the opportunity to travel without an authorization of exit, namely a visa. To move in this small global village of the world, a German passport is more worthy than a Togolese passport.

So if it is necessary to reduce the inequalities “from one country to another” it should therefore start by ensuring the egalitarian nature of people despite of their passport, and by the recognition of a planetary citizenship, linked simply to our shared humanity. We are, in fact, all human beings living on the same planet, with red blood in our veins, a beating heart and emotions. We are equally responsible for managing this world, which belongs to everyone. The integration of mobility and migration issues into the SDGs will in itself be a revolution against the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which ignored this delicate issue, as some countries did not wish to discuss it at the time. The tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea, and especially the plight of asylum seekers and migrant workers on all continents in 2015 and 2016 has quickly brought the issue of mobility and migration of the SDGs to the forefront.

As the implementation of the SDGs was the prerogative of the United Nations, it was up to the United Nations to open a debate on this subject once and for all, and to start discussions on these thorny issues of mobility and migration. The attempts to open such a debate had not been lacking in the past, but in many cases United Nations initiatives to establish a normative framework for dealing with migration issues have been systematically rejected by many countries. As proof, the United Nations Convention on the Right of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families on 18 December 1990 has not been ratified by any European or Middle Eastern country, more than a quarter of a century after its adoption.  The recommendations of the International Conferences on Population and Development have often been without result.

In 2006 it took a lot of diplomatic know-how to arrive at the beginning of a discussion in the United Nations on “Migration and Development”. Koffi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, convinced states to discuss the “contribution of migration in terms of development” with the promise to avoid the more terse subjects concerning visas, family reunification, detention migrants, expulsions, integration etc. The High Level Dialogue on Migration 2006 would be the birth of the Global Forum on Migration and Development. This forum, which has now been taking place for ten years, remained an informal setting in which countries meet and talk about the contribution of migrants at length, without taking decisions to improve their well-being. After ten years at this rate, the world would finally wake up to the daily tragedies involving migrants. The United Nations then had no choice but to convene a summit of heads of state on 19 September 2016 to begin a multilateral decision-making process around migration.

In New York, on September 19, 2016, a declaration was adopted incorporating, in the form of a report, many of the topics that some countries previously refused to discuss at the multilateral level. The declaration will, above all, make it possible to agree on a multilateral process leading to the adoption of two pacts by the end of 2018: A Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and a Global Compact for Refugees. The idea of these two pacts has been accepted by the most reluctant states, provided they are not legally binding. These pacts must be, according to them, a set of political commitments to which states must adhere. Consequently, the latter will not have the legal obligation to implement them, rather just a promise to consider them when formulating their national migration policy. Even such a beautiful compromise to please everyone failed to convince Donald Trump, the US President, who decided to withdraw the United States from the multilateral process of adoption of the Global Compact on Migration on the eve of the meeting at Mexico.

… In Puerto Vallarta

In the beautiful sunny city of Puerto Vallarta, it was a question of taking stock of the consultations carried out in recent months around the Global Compact for Migration. A total of six thematic consultation meetings brought together hundreds of organizations from New York, Geneva and Vienna. To this must be added, multi-stakeholder consultations, discussions at major international events related to migration, and consultations at the regional level. For Africa alone, five inter-state sub-regional consultations, one consultation meeting for African civil society, and one major continental consultation meeting in Addis Ababa were convened to produce a summary document of African recommendations. The UN processes are known for their ecological footprint and greenhouse gas emissions in terms of air transport, hotel stays and energy consumption.

Consultation meetings have also expanded to the national level. Some fifty countries took the trouble to organize exchanges between the different state structures working on migration and civil society in order to have a position to present at the Global Compact meeting. Despite the plurality of consultation meetings conducted and reports issued, it was considered appropriate to hold a final meeting in Puerto Vallarta, to listen again to all stakeholders.

The official note sent to delegations prior to the event presented the Puerto Vallarta meeting as a forum for exchange and debate between countries. The meeting, from its inception, would take another turn by giving the opportunity to different states to express their position on the Global Compact meeting subjects, especially after the withdrawal of the United States of America. Beyond the condemnations made by some states, particularly Latin American countries, concerning the position of the United States, the American argument prevailed in most interventions: “the right to determine in all sovereignty who can or can not enter on its soil”.

Some countries, whilst accepting the consideration of the various international conventions on human rights in the drafting of the Global Compact, refuse to recognise within the pact the recognition of the right for mobility of all people, without any restriction. For them, it is fundamental that the Global Compact mentions the right of countries to control the entry and stay of foreigners into their country according to the needs of their economy and society. Some states even go so far as to demand that the Global Compact include the sanctioning of situations that involve irregular migration. The Global Compact must, in their view, be a tool to fight against irregular migration, smuggling of migrants and the trafficking of migrant workers. It must, in their view, clearly state the shared responsibility of countries for managing migration and insist on the responsibility of countries of origin to accept the return, even forced, of their irregular migrants.

For others, the Global Compact will need to provide clear guidance for the creation of legal mobility channels for their citizens. Some delegations even requested in their interventions that the Global Compact put an end to the visa regime which blocks the right to mobility of their population. For the record, many of the African official delegations were unable to attend the meeting because of the requirement to have a visa to transit through the United States, as otherwise the airlines could not board them. The statements presented by these countries returned to the problems related to the integration of migrants, and that human rights law must be respected for cases involving the return of irregular migrants. These countries wished to see these points taken into account by the Global Compact. Other states called for the end of detentions for irregular migrants, and in particular for cases involving children. They insisted that the pact establish rules to facilitate family reunification in order to solve the problem of children separated from their parents because of the migration policies of the countries of destination.

Solutions to discrimination against migrants and xenophobic acts, which are proliferating all over the world, were raised by some states during Global Compact. States came forward with examples of good practices that they have developed at the national level, or at city level and grassroots communities that facilitate the integration of migrants by improving access to citizenship, education, health, work, social protection, etc., in the hope that these good practices will be echoed and that this will be taken as standard in the drafting of the Global Compact. Successful experiences of integration and free movement of persons at regional level in some parts of the world have also been cited as a basis for the Global Compact.

One of the most important issues exchanged in Puerto Vallarta focused on the implementation and monitoring mechanisms of the Global Compact after its adoption in 2018. The majority of States called for measurable indicators to verify the degree of compliance. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has become a UN agency since the summit of 19 September 2016, is seen by many states as a key UN structure at the forefront of the implementation of the Global Compact. This raises a debate about the role played by IOM to date, who provide a service to states that fund it, but are also sometimes in conflict with the rights of migrants. In addition, the mixed nature of migration and the complexity of the determinants of migration have led some countries to propose that the implementation of the Global Compact is coordinated between the different UN agencies. Some states have called for an independent reporting mechanism to monitor the fulfillment of commitments and dedicated frameworks, or the creation of new responsibilities for the High Level Dialogue on Migration and the Global Forum on Migration and Development. This raises a further question of how do we finance these items?

This is one of the questions which will be addressed in the first draft of the Global Compact, which is  to be published in February 2018. Negotiations between states, which are already intense, will be extended until July with the possibility of the adoption of the covenant and its opening for signature at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018. The meeting is will take place in Marrakesh, Morocco, in December 2018, on the sidelines of the next World Forum on Migration and Development for the launch of the new pact to manage mobility and human migration around the world.

(Written by Samir ABI, Permanent Secretary of the West Africain Observatory on Migrations)

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