The first ever international deal on the migration crisis was signed on Monday by a majority of UN states, despite vociferous objections led by the United States.
The historic, non-binding global pact seeking to better manage migration was approved by delegates from 164 nations following 18 months of debate and negotiation. German chancellor Angela Merkel hailed it as an “important day”.
The UN’s global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration, signed in Marrakech, is aimed at coordinating action on migration around the world. It was rejected by President Donald Trump a year ago. Since then Austria, which holds the EU presidency, has pulled out of the process, along with Australia, Chile, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia and the Dominican Republic.
Merkel, who welcomed hundreds of thousand of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan into her country, received a standing ovation on Monday after an impassioned speech in which she said the UN was founded after the second world war and spoke of the “incredible suffering on humankind” wrought by the Nazi regime.
The compact, she said, is about “nothing less than the foundation of our international cooperation”.
The Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, said the pact was being misused by some political parties to spread disinformation. Michel, whose coalition government split over his support for the pact, said in Marrakech that the text had sparked “lively debate” in Europe but was being exploited by political parties “to spread lies and mistruth”. He insisted that signing the compact would place “my country … on the right side of history”.
Critics argue the accord could challenge national sovereignty and say they fear an influx of migrants. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said on Monday it was a myth that the agreement infringed on the sovereignty of member states.
Six countries, among them Israel and Bulgaria, are debating whether to quit the deal, a UN spokesman said after the pact was adopted. Thirty out of the 193 UN countries that agreed on the pact did not attend the conference.
Marta Foresti, director of the human mobility initiative at the Overseas Development Institute, described the accord as “very significant” and “remarkable”, given the current political landscape.
The global pact lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and discourage illegal border crossings, as the number of people living outside their country of birth globally has surged to more than 250 million.
In Europe, legitimate fears of migrants coming into countries have been hijacked by far right groups and in the US, Trump has not only pulled out of the compact, but made strong efforts to convince others to do so. On Friday, the US described the pact as “an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of states”.
Foresti said the accord’s status as not legally binding did not mean it would not work. The Paris climate change agreement, she said, was a hybrid of legally and non-legally binding.
She said: “Over the last few years we have seen just how badly governments all over the world have failed to put in place policies that protect the lives of migrants and allay public concerns over messy border management.