Migration

What is the Global Compact for Migration

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was signed by 164 nations in Marrakech. This is what the non-binding agreement that encourages international cooperation stipulates.

After a heated political debate that went on for months, the Global Compact for Migration was signed on the 10th and 11th of December by 164 countries (with the notable exception of Italy), in Marrakech, Morocco. But what does this UN document stipulate, specifically? And why has it been so controversial?

The history of the Global Compact for Migration

As is explained by the official website, the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” is an agreement under the aegis of the United Nations. It’s the first ever agreement of its kind to have been negotiated between different governments with the goal of tackling on every dimension of international migration through an integrated approach. The phenomenon, after all, affects 258 million people: in other words, 3.4 per cent of the world’s population, for one reason or another, has abandoned its country of origin.

The history of the accord began on the 19th of September 2016, at the UN General Assembly, when the 193 representatives of the member states signed the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants. The declaration’s appendix provided a launchpad for further negotiations and consultations, whose end result was the Global Compact.

The Global Compact isn’t legally binding

The first thing that has to be clarified is that the Global Compact for Migration isn’t a binding piece of legislation and in no way impinges on state sovereignty; it simply establishes certain guidelines to follow for tighter cooperation in handling international migration. This is necessary because, as the document clearly states, “no state is able to face the challenges and opportunities of this global phenomenon by itself”.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés
Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, the president of the UN General Assembly, speaking at the Marrakech conference © UN Photo/Karim TIbari

Negotiators drew inspiration from well-established foundations: international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which just turned seventy), and many other UN Conventions, such as the Paris Agreement, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and the list goes on. Through a long and laborious path, all these documents were cross-referenced with research data, studies and expert contributions.

The 23 objectives for international migration

This long process of mediation resulted in 23 objectives, themselves declined into a series of actions.

  1. Collect and utilise accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies
  2. Minimise the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin
  3. Provide accurate and timely information at all stages of migration
  4. Ensure that all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation
  5. Enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration
  6. Facilitate fair and ethical recruitment and safeguard conditions that ensure decent work
  7. Address and reduce vulnerabilities in migration
  8. Save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants
  9. Strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants
  10. Prevent, combat and eradicate trafficking in persons in the context of international migration
  11. Manage borders in an integrated, secure and coordinated manner
  12. Strengthen certainty and predictability in migration procedures for appropriate screening, assessment and referral
  13. Use migration detention only as a measure of last resort and work towards alternatives
  14. Enhance consular protection, assistance and cooperation throughout the migration cycle
  15. Provide access to basic services for migrants
  16. Empower migrants and societies to realise full inclusion and social cohesion
  17. Eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote evidence-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration
  18. Invest in skills development and facilitate mutual recognition of skills, qualifications and competences
  19. Create conditions for migrants and diasporas to fully contribute to sustainable development in all countries
  20. Promote faster, safer and cheaper transfer of remittances and foster financial inclusion of migrants
  21. Cooperate in facilitating safe and dignified return and readmission, as well as sustainable reintegration
  22. Establish mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits
  23. Strengthen international cooperation and global partnerships for safe, orderly and regular migration.
global compact sulle migrazioni, marrakech
Marrakech, where the international conference for the signing of the Global Compact for Migration was held © UN Photo/Darem Bouchentouf

The US and Italy not among the 164 signatories

Above is an extreme synthesis of the document which was approved in Marrakech last December. Notably missing from the list of 164 countries that signed the agreement were Donald Trump’s United States, as well as the bloc known as the Visegrád Group (Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), joined by Austria, Bulgaria and Switzerland.

Even the Italian government led by Giuseppe Conte, chose not to take part in the Marrakech summit, and the decision on whether to sign the Compact was put to Parliament. The first debate, held on the 19th of December, failed to produce a decision. The motion that was approved, put forward by the majority, commits the government to evaluating the issue in greater depth before making a decision.


The question was brought back for discussion on the 27th of February, with a motion for Italy to commit to “not signing the Global Compact” and “not contributing in any way to financing the Compact’s trust fund”. The motion was approved with only 112 votes, while the government’s majority abstained. After long discussions, then, Italy finally rejected the deal. With the same mechanism, the government also committed to “adopting initiatives to immediately create hotspots in North African countries to examine requests for asylum”.

The Global Compact for Refugees

Around mid-December 2018, with decidedly less widespread media coverage, the UN General Assembly approved, with a significant majority, another Global Compact: dedicated to the issue of refugees. These are often confused with migrants, but the term indicates a very different condition. A migrant is, in a general sense, anyone who leaves their country of origin; a refugee, on the other hand, is a person for whom returning to their country of origin would be too dangerous, a definition that established by the Geneva Convention in 1951.

Read more: From Bosnia to Trieste, migrants’ journey across the new Balkan route

This other compact was also drafted as a consequence of the New York Declaration in 2016, and it also not binding but focuses on improving international cooperation.


It has four objectives:

  1. Ease the pressures on host countries
  2. Enhance refugee self-reliance
  3. Expand access to third-country solutions and “resettlement
  4. Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.

In this case, only the US and Hungary voted against the measure, and even abstentions were few. Italy, for example, voted in favour.

Featured image © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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