First UN agreement on migration adopted in Morocco despite withdrawals

164 countries attend Marrakech meeting to endorse the United Nations' response to the 2015 migration crisis

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The first UN global agreement setting up a common framework on the management of international migration flows was formally adopted on Monday as a two-day intergovernmental conference began in Marrakech.

Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita, who was elected president of the conference, formally announced the endorsement of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to a roar of applause.

But the criticism of 23 objectives outlined in the document has been raised in a number of countries, some of which stayed away from the conference.

Representatives of 164 of the 193 UN member states arrived at the Bab Ighli conference centre on Monday morning to affirm their support for the global migration deal.

Ten countries have formally notified the UN of their decision to pull out of the process — namely Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Chile and the United States.

US President Donald Trump, who also failed to appear at a COP24 summit on climate change in Poland last week, was the first to voice opposition to the pact in December last year.

The governments of Bulgaria, Estonia, Israel, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland are still conducting internal debates. Estonia recently aired a two-hour-long reading of the compact on prime TV after a dispute over its contents flared up in parliament, while in Slovakia the foreign minister was pushed to tender his resignation.

Belgium was the latest country to face political upheaval over the migration agreement, with Prime Minister Charles Michel’s coalition collapsing on Sunday when the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) Flemish nationalist party quit in protest.

“I stand here before you without a parliamentary majority backing my government,” Mr Michel told the conference.


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The N-VA, which is in favour of speeding up the deportation of migrants from Belgium, argued that taking part in the pact meant giving up sovereignty over the country’s borders. Despite his coalition partners’ volte face, two thirds of the Belgian parliament supported the agreement, Mr Michel said.

“In the name of my country, I assure you that Belgium is committed to supporting this migration pact.”

The Global Compact for Migration drew little attention when it was finalised and approved by all UN member states except the US after 18 months of high-level negotiations. But as the date set for its formal announcement in Marrakech drew closer and states begun pulling out, the document became a hot-button issue.

Louise Arbour, the UN secretary general's special representative for international migration, expressed disappointment at the row that ensued.

“We are not establishing a new right to migrate. No. There is not a right for anyone to go anywhere at any time according to his or her whim,” she said. “What we are establishing is the obligation to respect the human rights of migrants — which of course is absolutely obvious when we at the same time celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Before the conference opened, she said that “you can’t convince those who cannot be persuaded”.

The special representative also noted that the decision of some countries not to be present in Marrakech was a symbolic step that did little in practice to distance them from a text that had already been unanimously approved.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed her commitment to the global agreement despite facing criticism from the far-right party AfD.

“The compact clearly aims to combat illegal migration and the trafficking of human beings,” Mrs Merkel said. “We as countries cannot accept that whether a migrant manages or not to cross a border is decided by traffickers.”

The Global Compact for Migration will now be sent to the General Assembly, which will adopt a resolution by December 19 formally endorse the deal.