U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres arrives to attend the Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, in Marrakesh, Morocco. Picture: Reuters/Abderrahmane Mokhtari

UN members states adopted the Global Compact on Migration in Marrakech on Monday, defying the fear-mongering tactics of the alt-right movement in the US and Europe. A total of 150 governments were represented at the UN conference at Heads of State level or by senior officials. 

The adoption is a victory for a progressive new framework of how the world views migrants and agrees to protect their basic human rights.

"This moment is the inspiring product of dedicated and painstaking efforts. Migration is always with us, but in a world where it is ever more inevitable and necessary, it should be well managed and safe, not irregular and dangerous. National policies are far more likely to succeed with international cooperation," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told member states.

The Global Compact on Migration seeks to better manage migration at local, national, regional and global levels, in order to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities of migrants.

"We have defeated the notion that migration is bad, and countries like Germany, France and Spain have pushed back the darkness for migrants," the Philippines Representative told the UN gathering.

The GCM creates a non-legally binding and co-operative framework that builds on the commitments agreed upon by member states in the New York Declaration for refugees and migrants of December 2016. 

The Compact itself states, "No country can address the challenges and opportunities of this global phenomenon on its own...we commit to facilitate and ensure safe, orderly and regular migration." 

The drafters of the compact were at pains to reassure that the agreement in no way affects the sovereignty of states, but in fact "upholds state sovereignty."

The Compact sets out a framework on how international cooperation on migration issues should work but does not oblige states to take concrete action. 

It is above all a declaration of intent to protect the human rights of migrants, address the root causes of migration, and combat the negative myths surrounding migration. It acknowledges that migration is an international issue that affects all member states and there is a need for more effective migration governance.

Right-wing movements across Europe and the US have taken to social media to condemn the Global Compact, exposing their anti-immigrant, nativist agenda which rejects multilateralism and international institutions. 

The main arguments propagated against the GCM is that it will infringe on state sovereignty and could lead to fresh waves of migrants. The fact that right-wing movements put such extreme pressure on their governments to withdraw from the Global Compact shows their growing influence.

In Belgium, the government was in danger of collapse over support for the Global Compact, and Switzerland delayed its support until after a vote in parliament. Some governments withdrew from the process out of fear of being perceived as promoting migration.

The US has led the charge for over a year against the Global Compact, in recent days calling it a "pro-immigration document that is trying to globalise migration governance at the expense of state sovereignty." 

Some countries withdrew under pressure from their constituencies. Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Austria, Israel, Australia, Italy and Japan pulled out of the GCM, many of them led by right-wing or populist governments.

South Africa has thrown its full support behind the Global Compact, and is represented at the UN Conference by Minister of Home Affairs Siyabonga Cwele.

Independent Foreign Service