Refugees in Bosnia | Photo: DW/A.Puric
Refugees in Bosnia | Photo: DW/A.Puric

The UN General Assembly is set to endorse the Global Compact on Refugees, a week after a similar accord for migrants. Nearly 170 countries have pledged help to nations that host those fleeing war and persecution.

After two years of intense negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly is due on Monday to adopt a new refugee accord in an attempt to better manage those seeking international refuge in the wake of the 2015/2016 European migrant crisis.

The UN refugee compact contains a set of measures to help host nations, whose public services and infrastructure often struggle to cope with the increased burden of supporting people displaced by conflict, persecution and natural disasters.

The nonbinding compact also encourages solutions that help refugees become self-reliant in their host countries, and to improve conditions in countries of origin to allow their safe and dignified return.

Read more: Thousands march for refugee rights in Italy

More than 25.4 million refugees, over half of them under the age of 18, were living away from their home countries at the end of 2017, according to UN statistics.

Just 10 countries host almost two-thirds of the world's refugees, including Turkey which has welcomed 3.5 million people seeking refuge.

The refugee compact follows a similar accord finalized last week at a UN migration conference in Morocco that deals with all forms of migration. The UN General Assembly is also due to endorse that compact this week.

Refugees, migrants — what's the difference?

Most international experts consider migrants to be those who change their country of residence, irrespective of reason or legal status. They include economic migrants, who seek a better standard of living in a new country.

Read more: Germany: Libya coast guard rescued 10,000 migrants in 2018

Refugees are those who need international protection as a result of war, violence and persecution. They include stateless people. Their status is recognized by the 1951 UN Convention on refugees.

Whereas the migration compact aims to minimize the push factors for migrants leaving their home countries and to ensure they have correct identification papers, the refugee accord seeks to improve conditions for genuine asylum-seekers and offer additional support to their host countries.

What are the objectives of the refugee compact?

The global compact has four objectives:

  • To ease pressures on countries that host large numbers of refugees, as many of them are low or middle-income states.
  • Build self-reliance of refugees and help them thrive while in exile.
  • Expand access to third-country pathways of admission and other resettlement programs.
  • Support conditions that enable refugees to return to their countries of origin.

How the refugee pact came about

Three years ago, the sudden and massive rise in the number of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean or overland from Southeastern Europe caused a huge split among European Union countries. Many of the new arrivals were fleeing the Syrian civil war and other Middle East and African conflicts, while others sought to escape extreme poverty.

Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have refused to abide by the EU's Dublin Regulation which governs asylum policy for the whole bloc. Several EU states, mostly in Eastern Europe, have refused to honor an EU agreement to share asylum-seekers. Others, meanwhile, have reneged on promises to split the migrant burden.

Read more: How the EU's resettlement plan is failing to meet its goal

A year into the European migrant crisis, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing the need for better cooperation and coordination to manage migration effectively, which has led to several rounds of international negotiations toward two new pacts.

Similar migration crises in Africa, the Middle East and the Americas have also boosted support for better cooperation, although several countries are resisting the changes.

Which countries don't support the plans?

The pacts have reignited political tensions across Europe, where several Eastern European countries including Poland, Slovakia and Hungary have refused to sign, along with Austria.

In the wake of its rejection of the twin accord on migration last week, the US is also opposing the refugee accord. The Trump administration said it is "inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies."

Meanwhile, Brazil's incoming foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, has added Latin America's biggest nation to the list of countries resisting the plan as soon as right-wing President-elect Jair Bolsonaro takes office in January.

The UN insists the compact doesn't force countries into new obligations not previously agreed by the 1951 refugee convention.

Author: Nic Martin

First published: December 17, 2018

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