On a right(s) path? My first thoughts on the Zero Draft of the Global Compact #ForMigration

gcm_logo-vertical_englishThe zero drafts for the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees are out now, with the compact for “safe, orderly and regular migration” having been being made available earlier this week. The compact is to be agreed upon in a meeting in Morocco on 10-11 December 2018 – very likely in a version with significant differences to the “zero draft”. I have not found many assessments yet, so let me share my immediate impressions: There is a solid rights-based language in particular in the vision and guiding principles but also throughout the recommendations; it is also commendable how the compact does not shy away from some touchy issues such as facilitating family reunification, access to services regardless of migration status, using migration detention only as a last resort & working towards alternatives and putting particular emphasis on the rights of domestic workers, women and children. The compact refers to many existing frameworks, but it is very notable which one is completely absent:

There is no referral whatsoever to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (UNMWC). This remains the core binding UN convention on migrant workers, so refraining from even mentioning it seems rather strange. Actually, it is not that surprising, since most destination countries are opposed to the UNMWC and would prefer to replace it with this non-binding compact.

Still, the compact does not necessarily read like a watered down version of the UNMCW – the most contested issues of the convention, family reunification and rights regardless of status, are still here (anybody comes to a different conclusion? Let me know!). Before I address the content of the compact, here are some interesting formalities: The first six round of intergovernmental negotiations will take place 20-23 February, with a formal dialogue with stakeholders taking place on 22 February. Many more consultations will follow, and as mentioned above, the compact is to be agreed upon in Morocco on 10-11 December 2018 – which would the week after the GFMD, if my schedule is still correct.

for the further schedule see here:


I asked the speaker at a recent MPI webinar with representatives from Sweden and Germany what agreement/adoption etc. meant, but the answers were very vague. Will there be a vote, are they aiming for unanimous agreement? That latter ship has sailed with the U.S. withdrawing from the compact deliberations in typical Trump-style showmanship right before the stock taking meeting in Puerto Vallarta and Hungary now threatening the same, because – what a coincidence! – there is an election ahead…

What also remains vague is the future role of the GFMD; well there is that under 42:

we invite the Global Forum on Migration and Development, Regional Consultative Processes and other global, regional and subregional fora to provide platforms to exchange experiences on the implementation of the Global Compact, share good practices on policies and cooperation, promote innovative approaches, and foster multi-stakeholder partnerships around specific policy issues.”

But the actual tracking and monitoring will take place elsewhere – which is not a bad thing necessarily, since this should take place within the UN Framework. To this regard, the process known as High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, “currently scheduled to take place every fourth session of the General Assembly, shall be repurposed and renamed “International Migration Review Forum”. I wonder, what the renowned academic forum of the same name will make of this 😉

There are further concrete steps announced, – the new forum shall take place in 2022, 2026 and 2030 and in 2026 it shall be determined “ which specific measures will further strengthen the global governance of international migration, including whether to hold a review conference of the Global Compact in 2030.”

So much for the formalities, now here are my impressions after reading the whole document for the first time (very selective and I might miss some nasty staff hidden in the fine print 😉 )



Here, reference is made to previous processes, in particular the 2016 New York Declaration that started the whole compact business (and, I have to repeat, not a single word on the UN convention). It is also stated that this remains a non-legally cooperative framework which upholds the sovereignty of States.

Vision and Guiding Principles

Here, the compact starts sounding like a tourist lookout by offering “360-degree vision of international migration”; joking aside, that means that it “recognizes that a comprehensive approach is needed to optimize the overall benefits of migration while addressing risks and challenges for individuals and communities associated with it.” Further paragraphs stress shared responsibilities and the “right to remain in ones’ own country in safety and dignity.

Interestingly, the section “unity of purpose” stresses that the compact is people-centered:

“The Global Compact carries a strong human dimension to it, inherent to the migration experience itself. As a result, the Global Compact places individuals at its core.”

This could be seen as quite remarkable, because it would mean that this is a compact foremost on migrants – and not necessarily on how states control and manage migration.

There is a clear commitment to human rights: based on international law and standards “we ensure effective respect, protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status, across all stages of the migration cycle.” The compact is also to be Gender-responsive and child-sensitiv and it promotes broad multi-stakeholder partnerships, including with migrants themselves (obvious but actually not that obvious, since they tend to be left out in the migration management debate…)


Cooperative Framework and Objectives

No less then 22 objectives for safe, orderly and regular migration are listed here; no point in listing them all here, I put a link to the compact at the end of this blogpost.

These are then further elaborated on as actionable commitments.

What stuck out for me:

OBJECTIVE 4: Provide all migrants with proof of legal identity, proper identification and documentation

Subpoint b recommends:

“Strengthen measures to facilitate citizenship to children born in another State’s territory in

situations where a child would otherwise be stateless, including by allowing women to confer their nationality to their children”.

I would be interested in some assessment from a legal perspective on this, does this constitute progress? Probably not in the case of the U.S. , since it might be seen as a way from limiting the right to citizenship for everybody born on their territory.

What seems very progressive, on the other side, is the commitment to “firewalls”, although the name is not used, in subpoint f:

Abolish requirements to prove citizenship or nationality at service delivery centres to ensure

that stateless migrants are not precluded from accessing basic services nor denied other

basic human rights


OBJECTIVE 5: Enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration


Here, one can find a broad but important recommendation under a:

“Develop a human rights-based and gender-responsive labour mobility model agreement

with sector-specific standard terms of employment in cooperation with relevant

stakeholders on the basis of global guidelines and principles and in compliance with

international law”

point d adds that this should apply to all skill levels, and quite remarkably point g) adds:

Facilitate family reunification for migrants at all skills levels by integrating provisions in

migration laws and policies that remove barriers to the realization of the right to family unity

and family life, including income requirements, language pre-tests, length of stay, and type

of status, as well as provide work authorization and access to social security and services

The big questions is if this should include temporary migration – my major fieldwork focusses on migration from/within Southeast Asia, and here, such a provision would mean major progress.

Finally, I wonder why no mention of the ILO is made in this objective….

But it follows in

OBJECTIVE 6: Facilitate fair and ethical recruitment and safeguard conditions that ensure decent work

Here, core ILO standards are stressed, also the IOM International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS). Important points are the inclusion of trade unions and a clear statement on the Kafalah system under h):

End the practice of tying work visas to a single employer or sponsor in order to prevent violations of human rights and promote greater opportunities for decent work

Another importan tpoint is

“Provide all migrant workers engaged in remunerated labour with the same rights and protections extended to all workers, particularly by ensuring that migrants can exercise their rights to just and favourable conditions of work, to be free from slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour, to freedom of peaceful assembly and association to freedom of peaceful assembly and association

Many destinations do not allow such freedom of assembly, the Gulf States, for once, but also Singapore, so this would mean major progress.

OBJECTIVE 7: Address and reduce vulnerabilities in migration


Here, several actions are instrumental, among them b – simple but true:

Undertake a human rights-based review of policies and practices that may create, exacerbate or unintentionally increase vulnerabilities of migrants


OBJECTIVE 8: Save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants


Here, we find actually significant overlap with refugees, since there is a commitment “to save lives and prevent migrant deaths through joint search and rescue operations, standardized collection and exchange of information.”

In particular this point is of extreme relevance for the situation in the Mediterranean (and elsewhere) and let’s see if it will remain in the final draft:

Develop procedures and agreements on search and rescue with the primary objective to protect migrants’ right to life that refrain from pushbacks at land and sea borders and enhance reception and assistance capacities, while ensuring that the provision of humanitarian assistance for migrants is never criminalized”.


OBJECTIVE 11: Manage borders in an integrated, secure and coordinated manner


As you might have noticed, I am critical of the “management” paradigm – but when it comes to borders and migration I find it actually preferable to the common terminology of “protecting our borders” (thus framing migrants as a threat – leading to a securitization of migration).

This rights-based language continues, for example here:

  1. Promote the operationalization of the OHCHR Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders, including through cross-border collaboration between neighbouring States”

To read more about the Recommended Principles, see here:



OBJECTIVE 13: Use migration detention only as a last resort and work towards alternatives


This was one of the core topics at the 2017 GFMD in Berlin. Some activists found this goal to weak and stressed there should be no detention whatsoever, others found a formulation like the one above to be at least a compromise on the way to abolishing detention.

The rights of children are particularly stressed here.

Whatever, your position, I believe if the following were fully implemented it would mean major progress (unlikely, I know)

27 “We commit to take a human rights-based approach to any detention of migrants, using detention as a last resort only and working to create alternatives. We further commit to ensure that any detention in the context of international migration is lawful, non-arbitrary, based on necessity, proportionality and individual assessments, and carried out by competent officials, irrespective of whether detention occurs at the moment of entry, in transit, or proceedings of return.”


OBJECTIVE 16: Empower migrants and societies to realize full inclusion and social cohesion

OBJECTIVE 19: Create conditions for migrants and diasporas to fully contribute to

sustainable development in all countries

Some very important points made here with the general goal in objective 16 :

We commit to foster inclusive and cohesive societies by empowering migrants to become active members of society and promoting the reciprocal engagement of receiving communities and migrants in the exercise of their rights and obligations towards each other.”

Family reunification is stressed again:

“Develop short, medium and long term targets to accelerate inclusion of migrants in societies, including on labour market integration, family reunification, education, political participation, non-discrimination and health, by fostering partnerships with relevant stakeholders”.


Since my focus is on migration and democracy, I found the repeated (albeit vague) referral to political participation important; There is a transnational dimension since it includes countries of destination and origin:

33 G: “Enable political participation and engagement of migrants in their countries of origin, including in peace and reconciliation processes, in elections and political reforms, by establishing voting registries for citizens abroad, and by parliamentary representation”


Not surprisingly, as a researcher I fully agree with point 19 c;)

“Invest in research on the impact of non-financial contributions of migrants and diasporas to sustainable development in countries of origin and destination, such as knowledge and skills transfer, political participation and cultural exchange, with a view to developing global indicators, and strengthening global policy discussions”


As my colleague Nicola Piper and I pointed out, there is “more than remittances”:



And, as Bugs Bunny used to say, “That’s All, Folks”.


As stressed above, these are immediate impressions and I particularly value feedback here, since I might have missed/misconstrued some points? Drop me a note:


The full zero draft can be found here:

Click to access 180205_gcm_zero_draft_final.pdf







About Dr. Stefan Rother

Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute at the University of Freiburg -- Freelance journalist -- You can find my CV at the links below:
This entry was posted in EU, Gfmd, GFMD in General, ILO, Migration, UN HLD and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to On a right(s) path? My first thoughts on the Zero Draft of the Global Compact #ForMigration

  1. Pingback: Thematic Focus: General – AnAttorney.com

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