Amid COVID-19 and Other Challenges, International Community Must Redouble Efforts to Cooperate on Migration
WASHINGTON — The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest illustration of how migration management in times of systemic stress is beyond the ability of any individual state to address on its own. The adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) three years ago set out a comprehensive approach for pursuing international cooperation on migration, including the building blocks for improving governance in different areas. Yet the global public-health crisis and attendant unilateral border controls have raised significant questions about how the international community can handle ever-more complex migration challenges and what is needed to sustain multilateral cooperation.
A new Council Statement from the Transatlantic Council on Migration, an initiative of the Migration Policy Institute, explores the rationale for deeper cooperation on migration, the obstacles impeding it and ways forward. In Coming Together or Coming Apart? A New Phase of International Cooperation on Migration, Demetrios G. Papademetriou, Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan and Kate Hooper assess what the GCM has achieved and how the framework applies to pandemic-induced challenges.
“The International Migration Review Forum in May 2022 will offer a formal opportunity for states to review progress on GCM implementation and identify next steps,” the authors write. “But ahead of this forum, its champions need to continue making a strong case for why the compact can benefit states and societies, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and why countries should invest significant financial and political capital into this process.”
Endorsed by 152 countries at the UN General Assembly in December 2018, the GCM for the first time created a common language, concrete institutional mechanisms and a more level playing field for countries of migrant origin, destination and transit working to govern migration. As the pandemic took hold in 2020, certain GCM objectives became increasingly important, including migrant-rights objectives such as ensuring that all residents within a territory have access to health care and other basic services. Other compact objectives, such as coordination on border operations and return, have grown in relevance but have become even more difficult to implement.
Making the case for international cooperation in the current climate requires persuading national publics of the long-term benefits of well-managed migration and multilateralism, while using transparency and consistent communication to build public trust, the Council Statement notes. To this end, it recommends:
- Starting with small forms of cooperation. It may be wise to focus on practical ways of working together to achieve small victories that can encourage greater collaboration. Some states have pursued creating networks of stakeholders to focus on specific migration issues and make practical improvements for which they can get buy-in. For example, the UN Network on Migration has acted in response to the priorities of both states and civil society by establishing a working group on climate change and migration, alongside its regional reviews and other stakeholder consultations.
- Documenting and building upon successes so far. Despite slow and uneven implementation, the GCM has several achievements under its belt, including in the context of COVID-19. For example, the compact helped support the infrastructure Portugal needed to extend residency permits to hundreds of thousands of migrants during the pandemic. Sharing these successful efforts could motivate other countries to make progress.
- Activating whole-of-government approaches to tackle some of the hardest issues. Countries have begun to think creatively about how to seed new forms of cooperation. The Canadian development minister created a new forum for collaboration, pulling together colleagues from other countries to generate ideas on how to make a difference for vulnerable segments of the population. And in Germany, the interior, development and foreign ministries have established highly productive ways to work together on shared challenges.
“In an ever more interconnected world, achieving national goals cannot be accomplished solely through policies within or at one’s own borders. Yet laying the groundwork for international cooperation is neither automatic nor without risk,” the Council Statement concludes. “It requires concerted, systematic investments in building mutual trust as much as in the contents of the agreements themselves.”
Read the Council Statement here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/new-phase-international-cooperation-migration.
And for more work from the Transatlantic Council, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/transatlantic.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.