UN Must Address Protection Issues in Global Compact on Migration

UN Member States are now more than halfway through the process of developing a Global Compact for Refugees (GRC) and a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). On June 4, UNHCR released a third draft of the GCR (GCR Draft 3) and will lead a fifth round of consultation with States next week in Geneva. In New York, a fifth round of negotiations on the second revised draft of the GCM (GCM Draft 2) is underway and will wrap up on Friday, June 8.

Refugees International (i) has closely followed the development of both compacts to ensure that they fulfill the commitments and intent of the UN New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The New York Declaration acknowledges that the factors that compel people to move across borders today are complex and multi-causal, that migrants and refugees often use the same routes and arrive in mixed populations, and that while some people on the move may qualify as refugees, others may not, despite being extremely vulnerable and in need of human rights protection.  

The New York Declaration calls on States to cooperate to protect the human rights of all persons on the move, regardless of status. But as the two compacts come into clearer focus, RI is increasingly concerned that the possible omission of protection issues, broadly defined, in the GCM is undermining that goal and will result in protection gaps.  

In short, Refugees International believes it is essential that the GCM address protection issues, including protection from non-refoulement and complementary forms of protection that may go beyond the protections of the 1951 Convention related to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (Refugee Convention and Protocol). (ii)  We believe this is important for several reasons.  

First, and most importantly, reaffirmation of protection principles in the GCM sends an important signal of support for the rights of migrants from governments of the world. 

There is no good reason not to reaffirm protection principles in a document whose focus is on migrants, who are such a vulnerable population under many circumstances. 

Second, it is not accurate to assume that all protection issues will be adequately addressed in the Global Compact on Refugees.  

The current draft of the GCR (GCR Draft 3) reaffirms obligations to refugees as defined under the Refugees Convention and Protocol, which define a refugee as someone who is “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”  

It is true that UNHCR and others have advocated for a more expansive view of “refugee,” a development that has been reflected in national decision-making in many countries and which RI supports. UNHCR has also advocated on behalf of persons in “refugee-like situations” who may be entitled to complementary forms of protection. To be sure, the GCR text addresses such protection by indicating that, where appropriate, UNHCR and other stakeholders with relevant mandates and expertise will provide “…guidance and support for measures to address other protection and humanitarian challenges. This could include measures to assist those forcibly displaced by natural disasters, taking into account national law and regional instruments as applicable, as well as practices such as temporary protection and humanitarian stay arrangements.” (GCR Draft 3, Section 1.6, emphasis added, footnote omitted).  

But the GCR’s focus is refugees, and whatever one’s view on the breadth of the Refugee Convention and Protocol, complementary protection – for example, protection for those displaced by disasters brought on by sudden- and slow-onset natural hazards and the adverse impacts of climate change (iii) – is outside the framework of the Refugee Convention and Protocol and is appropriate for inclusion in the GCM. 

Third, RI is concerned about the apparent position of some Member States that the principle of non-refoulement and the provision of “humanitarian protection” principles which derive from international human rights and humanitarian law are exclusive to refugee law.  

As has been pointed out by numerous States and UN agencies and other experts in the GCM negotiations, this position is legally inaccurate.  

i Refugees International is a wholly-independent, non-profit organization that advocates for improved assistance, protection, and lasting solutions for people uprooted by conflict, human rights violations, and weather-related disasters and other climate change adverse effects. See www.refugeesinternational.org  

ii United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 606, No. 8791.    

iii In fact, GCR Draft 3 acknowledges that there are other forms of forced displacement that are not covered in the GCR including disaster-related, forced displacement. For example, the introductory section of the current draft of GCR Draft 3 related to prevention and root causes provides: “. . .  While not in themselves causes of refugee movements, climate, environmental degradation and natural disasters may interact with the drivers of refugee movements.” (GCR Draft 3, para. 8, emphasis added). In addition, the portion of the draft outlining the CRRF Program of Actions (GCR Draft 3, para. 12) provides:  

While the CRRF relates specifically to large refugee situations, population movements are not necessarily homogenous, and may be of a mixed, composite character. Some may be large mixed movements of refugees and migrants; others may involve refugees and internally displaced persons; and, in certain situations, external forced displacement may result from sudden-onset natural disasters and environmental degradation.