World leaders are trying to negotiate a better system for protecting refugees and migrants. These efforts began at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2016, as more than a million Syrian and other asylum seekers were fleeing into Europe. The international process will culminate at the end of 2018 in two agreements: the Global Compact on Refugees, and another, the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. 

The Migration Compact is set for UN approval at a conference in Marrakech, Morocco on Dec. 10-11, though Australia, the United States and several other countries have indicated they will not adopt that Compact. 

Both compacts are non-binding, but they represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity. What happens as the Compacts are adopted and implemented will determine whether these agreements will amount to an opportunity lost – or a landmark in improved protection and a better international response to refugees and migrants. 

The Kaldor Centre has been tracking this process, from the 2016 summits on refugees, where the Global Compacts were initiated, right up to the latest news. You can explore many of our resources from this page. 

Find answers to basic questions in our Factsheet: The Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration

In November 2018, Australia announced it would not sign the Global Compact on Migration. Professor Guy S Goodwin-Gill released a statement in response, while he and Kaldor Centre Director Jane McAdam published ‘Nothing surrendered but much to be gained from UN migration pact’.

Earlier in 2018 we published a Policy Brief, Making the Global Compacts Work: What future for refugees and migrants? , with The New School’s Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility. The Policy Brief offers a detailed analysis of the two draft agreements – what was innovative about them and what was missing from them. It made specific, practical recommendations to strengthen the Global Compacts. The authors wrote in particular about the challenges presented by the new US Administration in, 'Without US leadership, what is the future for refugees and migrants?'

The Compacts were the focus of the Kaldor Centre Conference 2017, which drew together key global, regional and Australian thinkers to discuss critical issues and the potential in each agreement. Our Insights Report highlights vital background, analysis and issues raised at the conference, including by the two keynote speakers, Georgetown Professor Elizabeth Ferris and former Irish Ambassador David Donoghue, who both played pivotal roles in developing the New York Declaration that kicked off the Global Compacts process in 2016. Australia’s particular role and interests were described by representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the then-Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Podcasts of all the conference sessions are also available.

In a 2016 Kaldor Centre Policy Brief, In search of commitments: The 2016 refugee summits, Professor Ferris detailed the extraordinary set of meetings that led to the current framework for discussions. The factors at play then remain vital to understanding the imperative and barriers to progress.

At the same time, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk wrote a piece for us that noted the enduring importance of this process: “At a time when borders are being fortified to keep refugees out and when refugees are accused wrongly of being terrorists, it is nothing short of a miracle that the United Nations unanimously adopted the New York Declaration which affirms and strengthens the protection of refugees.  

“Some academics, NGOs and much of the mainstream press have criticized the Summit for failing to act more boldly, for not making more concrete commitments, and for ‘merely’ reaffirming basic principles of international law... But in the real and imperfect world in which we struggle to advance the rights of refugees, the New York Declaration offers a strong endorsement of the basic principles of refugee protection and offers the possibility for further progress in the coming two years.” 

The Compacts have also prompted reflection on the contemporary role and adequacy of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Professor McAdam has been active in the discussion, as you can see in this Intelligence Squared debate.