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World's first global migration pact adopted

A global migration pact won approval in the United Nations General Assembly, setting up a universal system for ensuring the humane movement of people.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — A global migration pact won approval in the U.N. General Assembly, setting up a universal system for ensuring the humane movement of people.

The non-binding Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration tries to solve some of the polarizing but age-old issues surrounding people crossing borders. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called it a “roadmap to prevent suffering and chaos."

The pact won approval by a vote of 152-5, with 12 nations abstaining. Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and the United States voted against it. Another 24 nations were not present for the vote.

It resulted from two years of hard-fought negotiations. At a conference in Marrakesh, Morocco on December 10, it won support from 164 of the 193 U.N. member nations, despite opposition from the United States and a few other nations.

Created under the pact is a voluntary system of global governance for migration that contravenes the recent authoritarian, populist crackdown on people crossing borders. The treaty establishes that migrants have rights and the most vulnerable among them need protections, though it lacks the legal teeth to enforce those rights and protections.

The vote in Morocco capped a U.N.-led effort to reduce some of the serious dangers of migration, mainly from the lucrative global industry of human trafficking. Some 80% of migrants take safe, orderly routes. But more than 60,000 people have died trying to cross dangerous lands or waters with human smugglers.

“Unregulated migration bears a terrible human cost: a cost in lives lost on perilous journeys across deserts, oceans and rivers; and a cost in lives ruined at the hands of smugglers, unscrupulous employers and other predators,” said Guterres.

"But whether their movement is voluntary or forced; and whether or not they have been able to obtain formal authorization for movement, all human beings must have their human rights respected and their dignity upheld," Guterres said. "To deny this, and to vilify any group of people, is the road to dehumanization and horror."

Hundreds of millions on the move

The treaty affects some 258 million migrants worldwide, or just over 3% of the world’s population, according to U.N. estimates. The usual definition of a migrant is someone who crosses borders in search of a better life, whether due to lack of jobs, inequality or climate change, while refugees flee wars or persecution.

Just days earlier, the U.N. General Assembly adopted another new global treaty that spreads responsibility for those helping refugees flee from war and persecution.

The Global Compact on Refugees passed by a vote of 181-2, with the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya abstaining. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, praised it as "a new deal for refugees." Only the United States and Hungary were opposed.

Migration advocates reinforced the need for borders to remain open to stoke the global economy and trade, and the need to respect human rights of workers who benefit wealthy nations while sending home remittances to family in developing countries.

Two years ago, every U.N. member nation, including the United States under President Barack Obama, backed a declaration that international migration required universal cooperation through a global compact.

But U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States from the proposed U.N. migration pact a year ago, claiming it contradicted U.S. policies on immigration and refugees.

The treaty's passage was a credit to Canadian Louise Arbour, a former U.N. human rights chief who had taken on the job of special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for international migration to lead efforts to broker a deal. Parliaments in Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Israel, Slovenia and Switzerland hotly debated the topic.

Arbour said the new migration pact "will bring safety, order and economic progress to everyone’s benefit." Human movement is an ageless phenomenon, she added, and its "chaotic, dangerous exploitative aspects cannot be allowed to become a new normal.”