The UN to Adopt Agreements on Refugees and Migrants

By John Dickson


Just when we need some good news, the United Nations steps forward to lead international cooperation on one of the most pressing realities of our connected world – the movement of people across borders, either as refugees or migrants.  This month, when the General Assembly meets in New York, the UN will formally adopt two agreements that establish a series of principles, best practices and new mechanisms to help nations that face challenges of people on the move, crossing borders in search of economic opportunity and family reunification or fleeing violence and persecution. 

The UN launched the ambitious process in September 2016 at the request of President Barack Obama to prepare two Global Compacts – one on refugees and the other on migration - to guide support to address this complicated, potentially destabilizing phenomenon.  Ever since the summer of 2016 with the flood of refugees making dangerous, often fatal crossings into Europe, the numbers of displaced people around the world has reached historic highs – over 65 million people, homeless. 

The Global Compact on Refugees sets up a couple of cooperative mechanisms that allow countries to share information, coordinate policies, and provide emergency responses.  A Global Refugee Forum will periodically bring countries together to discuss ongoing situations, make commitments, and review progress.  More concretely, to respond to immediate crises, the compact envisions setting up a “Support Platform” that could be tapped under “a large-scale and/or complex refugee situation” or a “protracted refugee situation.”

The sister agreement, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration lays out nine principles (respect for human rights, people-centered, etc.) as a foundation for the agreement, and then proceeds to identify 23 different areas covering the full range of the migration process.  The document constructs a series of actions and commitments under each area that serve as best practices or guidelines for nations in handling migration.  These range from sharing research and information on migrant trends and benefits of migration, to protecting migrants, facilitating remittances and establishing “pathways for regular migration.”

It would be easy to be a cynic with these two documents.  Written in UN-style language, they are ambitious in their reach; some might say unattainable.  The two documents certainly face skepticism from the Trump Administration, which pulled out of the talks on the migration compact last year.  Even with language respecting the role of sovereign governments in determining their refugee and migration policies, the U.S. under President Trump would certainly be an outlier given its recent actions to separate immigrant children from their parents in contravention of human rights norms.

The Peace Corps Community for Refugees (PCC4Refugees) was one of many stakeholders invited to participate in the UN discussions.  We as a group underscored our advantages as a network across the country, made up of people who have lived and worked in foreign environments who can readily empathize with the adjustments of recent arrivals. 

For groups such as PCC4Refugees, it seems important to add our small voice in support of the UN Global Compacts and to the chorus of opposition to the policies and politics of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee groups in the U.S.   This is fundamental for forcing changes on wrong-headed policies such as family separation, for showing the world that this is not what our country stands for, and for continuing to welcome and, most importantly, provide assistance to those most vulnerable populations.