The Global Compact for Migration will go on – with or without the United States – for the sake of education

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7 year old Khadija from Syria returns home after attending class at the open accommodation site of Volos, Greece. Our assessment found that Syrian child refugees in Greece had been out of school for an average of 26 months. © UNHCR

The United States has just announced they are pulling out of the United Nations Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. On 19 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly hosted a high-level Summit to discuss ways in which Member States could better respond to large movements of migrants and refugees. At that Summit, all 193 Member States unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (Resolution 71/1).

The adoption of the Declaration launched a process of negotiations that will culminate in the adoption in 2018 of a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, as well as, through a separate process, a Global Compact on Refugees. The responsibility of assisting migrants and refugees will be shared more equitably across countries through increased international cooperation. Member States committed to “fully protect, the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status.”

Among these rights is the right to education, which is not contemplated anywhere in a unique document for migrants and refugees. A global agreement on migration, in all its various forms, therefore, would be a real novelty. As our recent GEM Report argued, having the back up of such a Compact would be a useful accountability tool for all the millions of migrants being denied an education today. 

GCMThe provision of services, such as education access, language training and health care would have a place in both compacts as it makes a difference in people’s lives and in their chances of integration. In the New York Declaration, Member States committed to “work to provide for basic health, education and psychosocial development and for the registration of all births on our territories.” And “to ensure that all children are receiving education within a few months of arrival”. They also would “take measures to improve their integration and inclusion, as appropriate, and with particular reference to access to education, health care, justice and language training.”

What are the implications of the United States leaving the Global Compact for Migration?

As the 2017/8 GEM Report reminded us, this wouldn’t be the first time the United States has not ratified an international treaty. For example, the United States is the only UN Member State that has not ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, for instance. It has not included the right to education in the constitution, either, rendering it useless for those being denied an education of good quality.

There is no question that global compacts do not carry the force of law. Indeed, the importance of the Compact, which is a political commitment, eventually depends on the willingness of the countries themselves to give it legal power. Rather than a way to undermine national sovereignty, it is a tool to foster cooperation and coordination on issues that should and cannot be managed by a country alone.

This is a sentiment echoed in the torrent of tweets on the hashtag #GlobalCompactMigration. As one of them reminded us, the Global Compact is an effort to reach agreement on voluntary measures to more effectively prevent unsafe and irregular migration … There is no suggestion that this process will prevent governments from determining their own immigration policies.” And in any case, as another message said this morning, it is impossible to think of “anything less meaningful than a country setting own policy on something that involves at least 1 other country”.

If anything, perhaps, this withdrawal may only serve to draw more attention to the Global Compact for Migration. The GEM Report is following the discussions closely, with research on our 2019 Report on migration, displacement and education now being well underway.




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