Scarcely any United Nations (UN) process has received as much public attention as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Shortly before its adoption at the end of last year, right-wing extremist groups launched a massive disinformation campaign aimed at sowing uncertainty, which fell on fertile ground, especially among right-wing populist governments. By contrast, Germany's clear stance in favour of the migration compact had a stabilising effect, especially on many European states.
The German Government is perceived on the international stage as an important actor in the field of migration and refugee policy, actively engaging in multilateral processes and providing valuable impetus. Germany has risen to become the second largest donor of humanitarian aid and thus a mainstay of support for the UN's chronically underfunded refugee work. And by assuming the chairmanship of the Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD) 2017/18 together with Morocco, Germany has made its mark in the development of the Global Compact for Migration as well. When it was subsequently targeted for attacks throughout the world by right-wing extremist networks and right-wing populist governments, Merkel and Maas took decisive action - albeit pretty late in the day. Previously, there had been speculations in diplomatic circles as to whether Germany would alter its course, thereby setting a domino effect in motion.
On 19 December 2018, the UN General Assembly formally adopted a resolution on the Global Compact for Migration - a diplomatic milestone, as the migration compact for the first time establishes a global framework for dealing with a phenomenon that has been shaping and moulding human history since time immemorial, posing major challenges to governments and societies along the way: international migration and human mobility. The fact that only five countries - the USA, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Israel - voted against the pact underlines how little impact the global fake news offensive ultimately had. A total of 152 countries voted for the compact in New York, with twelve abstaining. Even the Austrian government, which rejected the compact in November 2018 amidst plenty of media fanfare, abstained from voting. In this respect, the compact also constitutes a victory of multilateralism over nationalism, in which Germany played a decisive role.
From the perspective of many civil society organisations that have been involved in the consultation and negotiation process in recent years, one thing is clear: in the wake of the adoption of the compact, the next milestones now need to be set for its implementation - at all levels: global, regional, national and local. For this reason alone, it is important for a wide variety of actors to pull together, with the United Nations playing a key supporting role with its reformed structures. According to the principle of national sovereignty enshrined in the compact, countries hold the responsibility for devising national implementation plans. Germany should lead the way here, serving as a good example and setting standards. I would like to adopt a practice-oriented perspective to shed light on what this specifically means and spell out four steps that can help set standards in the following:
To ensure that the Migration Pact does not remain a toothless tiger, implementation and participation structures are needed. Two principles enshrined in the compact are key here: the overall government approach and the overall societal approach. The former means that responsibilities and procedures are organised by government departments acting together in such a way as to ensure horizontal and vertical coherence of policy. The latter means that all relevant stakeholders in society are involved in the implementation, like civil society, in particular migrant and diaspora organisations, the private sector, trade unions, local authorities, etc. In Germany processes are already in place, including with the involvement of the diaspora landscape. This can help expand existing participation structures like the integration summit. One could also learn from experience gained with the German sustainability strategy or the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights. An alliance of civil society actors in Germany has already offered its services to the Federal Government, which is for its part now called upon to respond.
Once the structure is in place, the current status of migration policy in Germany must first be assessed: What existing strategies, programmes and measures are already contributing to achieving the objectives of the compact? What obstacles are there to achieving the targets? This stock-taking touches on all dimensions of migration, for instance the exploitation of migrants in irregular employment relationships, the elimination of discrimination, integration and participation, causes of flight, the Skilled Labour Immigration Act, recognition of qualifications, visa procedures, migration agreements and possibilities for safe return. The government should seek advice from socially relevant stakeholders and classify migration targets using a traffic light system based on criteria and indicators. At the same time, Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, human rights treaties and international conventions should offer the foundations for this.
Once the biggest challenges have been identified, national priorities and roadmaps can be spelled out. Implementation should go beyond the re-labelling of existing laws, programmes and measures and contribute on a larger scale to improving the infrastructure for secure, orderly and regular migration. The Cornerstone Paper on the Skilled Labour Immigration Act, for example, offers a starting point for a development-oriented migration policy. Pilot programmes for the sustainable recruitment of skilled workers could be expanded or transnational training partnerships established (objectives 5 and 18). If they are jointly developed, regulated and monitored by countries of destination and countries of origin, and the rights of migrants are safeguarded, migration can offer an opportunity for all stakeholders.
In order for migration to remain a free choice and not a necessity, the Migration Pact establishes that the negative forces driving people to leave their homes must be minimised (objective 2). This is to be achieved through implementation of the UN's sustainable development goals, which lay down a detailed working plan up to 2030 and beyond, ranging from the fight against poverty and inequality to combatting climate change and fostering decent work. This cannot be achieved through development cooperation alone. A responsible policy "combating the causes of flight" should analyse the effects of foreign and security policy, arms exports, climate policy, international tax policy and national debt, human rights violations by business enterprises, agricultural and fisheries policy and trade policy.
The protection gap for migrants cannot be eliminated by the compact. It is a non-binding declaration of intent and does not set out any (binding) new law. As a political instrument, however, the compact can be used to strengthen existing international law and to recommend specific actions on how states can better cooperate. For example, they could take action against detention of migrants - especially children - which is common practice in many countries (objective 13). Current plans of the Federal Ministry of the Interior for "eased detention" would, however, be difficult to reconcile.
These are just a few examples of specific projects that could be laid down in a national implementation plan.
The Migration Pact puts UN structures for international cooperation on migration issues on a new footing. In the future, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) will play a central coordinating role within the newly created UN Migration Network. In this, UN agencies organise themselves into thematic working groups. The network is to support the implementation plans of the states, for example with the so-called capacity-building mechanism. This will make technical, human and financial resources available to states in order to initiate cooperation on migration policy. The mechanism consists of a liaison office, which provides advice, and a start-up fund for the initial financing of project-oriented solutions. In addition to existing instruments of development cooperation, the German government could use instruments of the mechanism for cooperation with partner countries. This is because capacities for a migration policy based on partnership have frequently yet to be created so that migration can indeed have a developmental impact.
In all this, the Federal Government must communicate the National Implementation Plan to the general public and involve the population in order to nip misinformation and conspiracy theories in the bud. The Migration Compact provides a framework for responding to global challenges. Compromises and cooperation are therefore a must - including within the European Union. Germany should seek to form a European coalition for the implementation of the Migration Compact. Other regions of the world are leading the way here: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) have recently announced their intention to be the first to present a comprehensive development plan for the Migration Pact. Germany as well now needs to shift into overdrive.
This article was originally published on fluechtlingsforschung.net