Put simply, we need a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration because we believe in order, and not chaos.

People will not stop moving between States. This is what they have done since time immemorial, since before ever there were States. Some will be refugees, many will be in search of a better life, and most migration will, in fact, be legal. But fear and need and desperation are powerful drivers, part of the social reality of a globalised world in which the politics have not yet caught up.

Numbers are not and never have been the problem. Rather, it is the failure of governments to invest appropriately, to think outside the box, to come up with policies that are not just reactive to the moment, pretences of ‘toughness’ aimed at illusory goals such as deterrence.

The failures of such ad hocism are to be seen everywhere – bankrupt in principle, and bankrupt in outcomes, in malfunctioning border management, dysfunctional relations between countries across the full spectrum of migration, and told and untold harm to countless thousands of men, women and children caught up in the inadequacies of national and regional systems.

These are all avoidable tragedies. There is no need to break up families, to separate and incarcerate children, to intern or transport to remote and desolate places those seeking refuge or a chance of a life.

There is no need to criminalize or demonize people on the move, no need systematically to deny their dignity and identity as human beings; no need to foster enmity and discrimination by the deliberate encouragement of a hostile environment. There is a need, though, for change, and for stepping up to order in migration; for understanding that people moving is an international human activity that touches us all. None can ‘solve’ it, for it is not that sort of ‘problem’, but many can play a part in bringing order to the present.

The Global Compact on Migration is about the better and more humane organisation of something which the sovereignty of individual States has failed to manage. It does not ignore national concerns, or impose new duties, but aims to integrate those interests more effectively into the bigger picture.

With its emphasis on cooperation towards agreed objectives in a non-legally-binding environment, the Global Compact opens the way to progressive, practical thinking. It can help us all to plan for development and for the inevitable movements of the future, particularly as climate change and disasters continue to work their effects on human mobility. It recognizes the need for comprehensive responses – strengthening preparedness and disaster risk reduction, exploring mobility choices and adaptation, preserving culture and identity in displacement.

And by normalising migration, including returns, by imaginatively using pathways to education, acquisition of skills and experience, and the involvement of migrant and diaspora communities, its full development potential can be realised, and the businesses of smuggling and trafficking that thrive in the current disorder can be undercut.

Getting there will require radical thinking. What do borders actually mean today? Every wall, every fence, is porous at some level, and our sense of national and political identity is ever evolving. There is no going back to a closed, imagined world, demagoguery notwithstanding. We need to think about society, the polis, in new ways, going forward, but on the foundation of those democratic principles that allow for order, that favour the rule of law, non-discrimination, and the inherent dignity and identity of every human being.

This is an agenda that calls out for leadership, for courage, for cooperation and global partnerships. It will not appeal to the small-minded, the isolationists and reactionaries, or to those who have tied their limited political future to instilling fear and apprehension. Small wonder, then, that many of today’s leaders turn inwards, shy away from the challenge, away from a reality that demands attention – dealing with structural push factors, with the long-term vision that development demands, with the practical requirements for equality, decent work, inclusion and social cohesion.

For this is a long-term project, as the Global Compact foresees. It must gather and maintain momentum in a more fully democratised process that brings in the broadest range of stakeholders, including countries across the full spectrum of movement from origin, through transit to destination. It will require an engagement that is more equal and more equitable than any seen so far, and outreach which builds on the strengths of civil society, on migrant and diaspora communities, trade unions, the private sector, academia, the media, to name but a few.

We need a Global Compact on Migration today, tomorrow, and in the years ahead. We need a Global Compact so that we can replace apprehension with a sense of order, stability and security, so that we can find confidence in the capacity of government to support just and appropriate outcomes, and so that we can witness to the full, the positive contribution that migration makes to the development of sending and receiving countries and of migrants themselves.

We need order, not the chaos that fast becomes the excuse for twenty-first-century barbarity.

By Professor Guy S Goodwin-Gill
This commentary was first published in
The Progressive Post on 10 December 2018