Implementing Migrant Protection? The UN’s Second Report on the Implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration

by Maja Grundler and Professor Elspeth Guild, Queen Mary University of London

The United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) has published the second Report on the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, also known as the Marrakech Compact (MC). Although, like its counterpart the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), the MC is a non-binding instrument, both Global Compacts (GCs) provide for accountability and review mechanisms. The UNSG reports are part of these accountability initiatives and are produced biennially – the first Report was published in October 2020. The 2022 Report provides guidance for the deliberations during the first International Migration Review Forum in May 2022, the ‘primary intergovernmental global platform for Member States to discuss and share progress on the implementation of all aspects of the Global Compact’ (MC para 49 b). The Report draws on outcomes of the regional review process of the GC, ‘as well as dedicated Member State and stakeholder consultations and discussions with United Nations system entities.’

Photo by dog97209 on Unsplash

In this blog post, Maja Grundler and Elspeth Guild discuss the Report’s approach to monitoring implementation of the MC. They argue that more explicit engagement with the MC’s objectives and detailed provisions, as well as concrete suggestions for actions for achieving, and criteria for measuring, progress should be the focus of future implementation reports.  

‘Progress, Practices, and Challenges’

The Report begins by presenting ‘an overview of the progress, practices and challenges noted by Governments and stakeholders, including during the regional reviews, across 10 themes.’

The ten themes, in turn, encompass (the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on) development; environmental disasters, degradation and climate change as drives of migration; working conditions for migrants; smuggling and human trafficking; consular assistance to migrants; the role of diaspora organisations in harnessing migrants’ contributions; remittance flows; social security for migrants; and the role of data for evidence-based migration policy.

Since the Report is intended to inform discussions at the 2022 Migration Review Forum, it also highlights three additional policy priorities for consideration by the Forum: 1) ‘Promoting inclusive societies and including migrants in COVID-19 response and recovery’; 2) ‘Promoting safe and regular migration;’ and 3) ‘Preventing loss of life and other tragedies during migration.’

Measuring Progress?

In the context of each of the ten themes, as well as the three policy priorities, the Report highlights a number of national good-practice examples. Although these examples are encouraging and important and do illustrate progress in implementing MC standards, they paint and undeservedly positive image of the progress achieved.

Although the Report also engages with ‘challenges’ to achieving progress in the relevant areas, it does not ‘name and shame’ practices or actors which hinder implementation of the MC’s standards. Instead, it confines itself to general comments about problems and possible ways to achieve improvements.

At the same time, the text barely engages with the MC’s provisions. Indeed, as opposed to the first Report, the second Report barely mentions the MC’s individual objectives. However, it is precisely these objectives, and particularly their detailed nature, which have the potential to meaningfully inform the review process and to highlight gaps in implementation. Having identified 23 Objectives, and how to achieve their implementation, in the MC, these objectives should be the basis for the review process.

While highlighting best practice is helpful in this context, monitoring implementation of the MC’s objectives must also entail identifying state practice which is not in line with the Compact standards. Migrants themselves and organisations representing their interests will be best placed to identify instances of non-compliance. Indeed, the Report states that ‘stakeholders called for more perspectives from migrants in the analysis of implementation needs, the development of national plans and the Compact review and follow-up.’

Guidance and Recommendations

In fact, the Report highlights that Guidance on implementing the Compact objectives exists.

The UN Network on Migration has developed a ‘six-step process for implementing the Compact objectives and guiding principles, while recognizing the need for a context-driven, flexible approach.’ The Network has also established a trust fund, which is intended to support measures leading to compliance with MC standards. In this context, the Report encourages states ‘to pledge concrete actions for the implementation of the Compact, where possible in advance of the first International Migration Review Forum.’

Yet, developing concrete actions should not be left solely up to states, which may well be reluctant to comply with MC standards. As the Report notes, working towards progress should include ‘meaningfully engaging migrants and host communities, including children and young people, in decisions that concern them.’

No concrete action plan

Indeed, the Report itself suggests some concrete actions for achieving progress in the three policy priority areas it focuses on; however, it does not develop concrete actions for each Compact objective. Rather, states ‘are encouraged to consider how to develop benchmarks and mechanisms to measure progress on, and monitor the implementation of, the commitments in the Compact.’

To ensure that such benchmarks and mechanisms meaningfully reflect the MC standards, however, they ought to be developed by future implantation reports themselves, with input from migrant and civil society organisations, and ought to engage with the Compact’s objectives and detailed provisions. Once indicators for compliance have been developed, examples of non-compliance will be easier to identify and remedy.

In breach of non-regression?

In summary, while the Report is to be welcomed, it lacks the necessary direction and drive to encourage states to take the MC seriously and live up to their commitments to implement it fully and faithfully.

As the starting place for the first International Migration Review Forum, which starts in just over three months, it has set the standard very low.

With regard to states where there has been obvious degradation of national legislation on migration against the interests of migrants and their family members (such as the UK), there is little in the Report which could be construed as criticism.

This runs counter to one of the three principles of the MC, that of non-regression.

At the very least, the Report should be insisting on good faith implementation of this principle which does no more than safeguard the status quo against further degradation of the rights of migrants.