Ensuring that the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration Deliver


Alice Thomas and Mark Yarnell


Final drafts of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) are slated for endorsement by UN member states in December 2018. The shared goal of the compacts is to establish international cooperative frameworks to implement the commitments agreed upon unanimously by UN member states in the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants (New York Declaration).1 Both compacts were developed over more than 18 months of extensive consultations and negotiations involving governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations, experts, the private sector, the philanthropic community, and refugees and migrants themselves. Both compacts are nonbinding.

The GCR describes a series of actions that governments can take to ease the pressures on refugee host countries while enhancing refugee self-reliance by promoting their economic and social status. It also includes measures to expand access to third-country solutions and support countries of origin in ensuring that conditions in receiving areas are conducive to safe, dignified, and sustainable returns.

The GCM is more expansive, including a wide range of commitments and actions embodied in a set of 23 objectives aimed at addressing the numerous challenges associated with unsafe, disorderly, and irregular migration while also recognizing and respecting a broad range of migrant rights. To facilitate these outcomes, both compacts establish new platforms and institutions.
Unfortunately, although the challenges of responding effectively to refugees and migrants have continued to mount, the negotiations to develop the compacts coincided with a period of growing nationalism and xenophobia around the world, making refugee and migration issues political hot buttons. Amid this backsliding of political will – especially from governments that were once leaders on these issues – the final text of both compacts falls short of the goals and expectations set forth in the New York Declaration in a number of ways.

In this issue brief, Refugees International’s fourth on the global compacts,2 we outline some key achievements, identify major challenges that lie ahead, and make recommendations to help ensure that these global compacts deliver on their aspirations.