Australia Refuses to Sign UN Migration Pact

The Australian government has announced it will not be signing a United Nations migration pact, which was developed during 2018. The pact invites signatory states to work towards a more humane and cooperative approach to world migration and to adopt domestic practices that address migration issues in a safe, orderly and regular way through international cooperation. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has claimed that signing the pact would undermine Australia’s harsh border protection policies. He has also announced that Australia will be reducing its migrant intake from the previous cap of 190,000 per year.

Australia runs offshore immigration detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, which are designed to deter boat people from making the journey to Australia. The UN has repeatedly condemned Australia’ refugee policies, particularly that of the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, finding them to be in violation of international law.

What does the migration pact say?

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a UN document based on well-established principles of international human rights law. It provides a non-legally binding cooperative framework for dealing with migration in order to maximise its benefits, mitigate its risks and protect the rights of migrants at all stages in the migration process.

The compact aims to address concerns of recipient communities and to address the challenges of migration through shared responsibility by all signatory states. It also contains a commitment to ensuring that “migrants are not detained arbitrarily, that decisions to detain are based on law, are proportionate, have a legitimate purpose, and are taken on an individual basis, in full compliance with due process and procedural safeguards, and that immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent or used as a form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to migrants, in accordance with international human rights law”.

The document sets out actions that signatory states should take to further the purposes of the compact, including numerous actions designed to protect the rights of women and children at all stages of migration.

Objectives of the migration pact

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration sets out 21 objectives, which include:

  • Minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin;
  • Collecting and utilizing accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence based policies;
  • Providing accurate and timely information at all stages of migration;
  • Ensuring that all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation;
  • Enhancing availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration;
  • Facilitating fair and ethical recruitment and safeguarding conditions that ensure decent work;
  • Addressing and reducing vulnerabilities in migration;
  • Saving lives and establishing coordinated international efforts on missing migrants;
  • Strengthening the transnational response to smuggling of migrants;
  • Preventing, combating and eradicating trafficking in persons in the context of international migration;
  • Creating conditions for migrants and diasporas to fully contribute to sustainable development in all countries;
  • Promoting faster, safer and cheaper transfer of remittances and fostering financial inclusion of migrants;
  • Cooperating in facilitating safe and dignified return and readmission, as well as sustainable reintegration;
  • Establishing mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits;
  • Strengthening international cooperation and global partnerships for safe, orderly and regular migration;

Actions recommended by the migration pact

The pact sets out actions that signatory states should take in working towards its objectives. These include reviewing and reforming existing domestic policies and practices to address the needs and vulnerabilities of migrants, reviewing labour laws and work conditions to address abuses of migrant workers, developing procedures for the search and rescue of migrants to protect migrants’ right to life and enabling migrants to communicate with families by providing means of communication at migrant destinations including in detention.

Community response

Human rights advocates in Australia have rejected the Prime Minister’s claim that signing the migration pact would undermine Australia’s migration policies, pointing out that the pact is non-binding and contains a provision stating that signatory countries retain sovereignty over their migration programs. The opposition has neither condemned nor supported the government’s decision.

The United States, Israel and some Eastern European countries have also refused to sign the migration pact.

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