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At Their Second Anniversary, the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration Appear to Be on Separate and Increasingly Diverging Tracks

WASHINGTON — Two years after the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) at the UN General Assembly, the global landscape in which these instruments are being implemented has shifted dramatically. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought acute disruptions to global mobility; increased governments’ reliance on short-term, often unilateral responses to managing migration and humanitarian admissions; and imposed dramatic new burdens on public services while undermining their financial foundations. At the same time, the impacts of climate change on migration are becoming increasingly severe.

These new and intensified challenges further reinforce the importance and long-term benefits of international cooperation on migration and refugee protection within the frameworks of the compacts. While the pacts’ implementation has been halting and their complementary visions have diverged, the agreements can still realize their potential of providing meaningful frameworks on human mobility and humanitarian protection if practical, strategic steps are taken.

A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) policy brief, The Divergent Trajectories of the Global Migration and Refugee Compacts: Implementation and Crisis, draws on expert interviews in Europe, Africa and the Americas as well as in-depth review of implementation plans and progress updates to explore the extent to which both compacts have lived up to and fallen short of expectations.

The brief notes the hesitance in some circles of bringing refugee and migration issues too closely together out of fear this would either dilute the traditional protection space carved out for refugees or dramatically expand the obligations placed on countries to protect other people on the move. Yet it argues that the growing prominence of mixed migration flows and cross-cutting issues such as displacement resulting from climate change present important opportunities for complementary action.

“With many issues covered under the compacts deeply intertwined — if not from a legal and institutional perspective, then certainly from an operational one — policymakers will sooner or later need to turn their attention to the intersections between the pacts if they wish to unlock their potential,” write Lena Kainz, Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan and Kathleen Newland.

“Those who feel that the prospects of the refugee compact are brighter if it is not too closely aligned with the migration compact may be right in the short term, but in the longer term, refugees will be better served by a structure that magnifies the benefits of global mobility by realizing the goal of safe, orderly and regular migration,” they conclude.

Migration Policy Institute

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