(CNSNews.com) – Representatives of more than 150 countries are meeting in Morocco on Monday to formally adopt a “compact” on migrants – an initiative which the Trump administration calls an attempt to “globalize migration governance at the expense of state sovereignty.”
Coming five months after the U.N. General Assembly put the finishing touches on the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” (GCM), the two-day gathering in Marrakesh follows a string of recent setbacks, with at least ten countries having distanced themselves from the initiative.
Many are in Europe where, three years after the migration crisis peaked, right-wing and far-right parties are leading opposition to the GCM, driven largely by concerns similar to those cited by President Trump’s administration.
‘Foreign nationals who are not lawfully present are not “irregular” ’
Proponents emphasize that the GCM is non-binding and merely promotes a common global approach to migrant flows, while explicitly underlining each county’s sovereign rights.
But critics have raised numerous concerns, among them the fact the “holistic” document does not outright condemn “irregular” migration – one of 23 key objectives is to “enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration” – or adequately distinguish between regular and irregular migration.
A call for “sensitizing and educating media professionals on migration-related issues and terminology” has raised press freedom and free speech worries.
The Trump administration has raised those concerns, as well as others such as the document’s call for “detention only as a measure of last resort” when dealing with irregular migrants.
In fact, it rejects the term “irregular” altogether in this context.
“In the United States, foreign nationals who are not lawfully present are not ‘irregular’ – they are illegal aliens violating the laws and immigration policies of our nation and are subject to prosecution and removal,” says the newly-released U.S. national position statement on the GCM.
The administration also does not like the term “compact,” arguing that it “has no settled meaning in international law, but it implies legal obligation.”
It says supporters of the initiative could try to use the document and its objectives as a way of “building customary international law or so-called ‘soft law’ in the area of migration.”
Overall, the administration says the exercise represents “an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of states to manage their immigration systems in accordance with their national laws, policies, and interests.”
“While the United States honors the contributions of the many immigrants who helped build our nation, we cannot support a ‘compact’ or process that imposes or has the potential to impose international guidelines, standards, expectations, or commitments that might constrain our ability to make decisions in the best interests of our nation and citizens,” the U.S. statement asserts.
‘It places no imposition on states’
Speaking in Marrakesh ahead of Monday’s events, U.N. special representative for international migration Louise Arbour expressed fresh frustration at the criticism.
“It creates no right to migrate. It places no imposition on states,” she said. “It is not legally binding.”
While seeking to downplay what critics see as the dangers, Arbour was at the same time eager to promote the compact, which took six months to negotiate. She told reporters its implementation “will forever change the way the international community manages human mobility.”
On the countries that have exited, she said it was “regrettable whenever any state withdraws from a multilateral process on a global issue, the outcome of which has generated overwhelming support.”
Arbour listed those who have announced they are “pulling out”: Austria, Australia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and the United States.
Others have indicated that they are going through further internal deliberations, she said, listing those as Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Israel, Slovenia and Switzerland.
On Sunday, Belgium’s ruling coalition fell apart after a member party threatened to leave if Prime Minister Charles Michel went to Marrakesh to adopt the compact.
One day earlier, an anti-GCM event hosted by Belgium’s far-right Flemish party Lamas Belong was addressed by the populist French opposition leader Marine le Pen and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who declared the compact “dead before it’s signed.”
Michel has traveled to Marrakesh nonetheless, after being forced to cobble together a minority government to limp towards next May’s federal and European Parliament elections.
Last week the leader of Canada’s official opposition Conservative Party, Andrew Schemer, distanced it from the GCM, saying that “it gives influence over Canada’s immigration system to foreign entities” and “attempts to influence how our free and independent media report on immigration issues.”
Halfway around the world, New Zealand is also grappling with the issue, with opposition National Party leader Simon Bridges having announced his party would pull out of the compact if it returns to power, saying that New Zealanders “don’t need the U.N. to tell us what to do.”
Meanwhile France may be reeling from ongoing violent protests against a now-canceled fuel tax rise, but President Emmanuel Macron’s government was still tweeting Sunday in defense of the GCM.
A video clip posted by his foreign ministry disputed some major criticisms of the pact, saying it does not set goals to increase migration and does not create a “right to migrate,” among other things.
The U.N. says the number of migrants worldwide reached 258 million last year, an increase of almost 50 percent since 2000. Most of them had moved countries through what Arbour called “regular channels.”