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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

UN Summit on the Movement of Refugees and Migrants

Guest Post by Jill Goldenziel

(cross posted on IntlawGrrrls)

            This semester, I had the extraordinary opportunity to consult on the makings of a new international agreement to protect refugees and migrants.  Following President Obama’s lead, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) decided to hold a special Summit at its September 2016 session to address “Large Movement of Refugees and Migrants” that have been occurring throughout the globe.  The outcome goal of the Summit was to have all UNGA member-states affirm a Political Declaration to express their commitments to refugees and migrants.   The Political Declaration would kick off a process that will result in member-states signing a new “Global Compact” on Refugees and Migrants by 2018. 

            The Academic Council on the UN System (ACUNS) and the American Society of International Law (ASIL) invited me to apply to attend the civil society consultations for the Summit as their representative.  I was honored that the UN accepted my application from a highly competitive pool.  On July 18, I attended the first “Multi-Stakeholder Hearings for the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants” at UN Headquarters in NYC.  Very few civil society representatives were allowed to speak spontaneously at the hearings.  After I expressed my frustration to the Non-Governmental Liaison Office, I was invited back a week later for a Meeting with the Co-Facilitators of the Summit itself, the UN Ambassadors from Jordan and Ireland.  By this time, the Co-Facilitators had been meeting with state parties around the clock and were frantically trying to solicit feedback to finalize the Political Declaration to present before UNGA.  I was able to share my ideas about what the Political Declaration should contain, based on my own extensive work on refugees and migration.  The Ambassador from Jordan also invited me to submit my written comments on the Political Declaration directly to her office.  While I will never know for sure if my ideas made an impact, the final document reflected a number of my suggestions.


  I was then honored to attend the Summit itself and related invitation-only High-Level Meetings from September 19-21.  It was incredible to see the fruits of our labor and also to watch the UN devote attention to a topic that has consumed my research efforts for nearly a decade.  Among other meetings, I attended a panel on International Action and Cooperation on Refugees, Migrants, and Displacement, hosted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Queen Rania of Jordan; a dialogue between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the head of the World Bank; a High-Level Meeting on Regional Solutions hosted by Italy; and a High-Level Meeting on Preventing Conflicts through the Mainstreaming of Human Rights hosted by Germany and Switzerland.  I had a long meeting with the UNHCR-Europe (Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) legal advisor about my own research at the UNHCR-NY Office, and I made many other connections that will be relevant for my continuing research and book about how to solve the refugee and migration crisis. 

            I was then invited back to the UN on November 22 for a "Multi-Stakeholder Meeting on Modalities for the Global Compact for Migration."  Translating from UN-Speak, it was a meeting that will help determine what role civil society representatives will play in shaping the Global Compact for Migration that is slated for completion in 2018.  The Global Compact is slated to be a document, short of a formal treaty, that will commit states to managing migration in a safe and orderly way that will respect human rights.  

If that sounds bureaucratic, it is, and with good reason. Speakers were informed that it was a rare occurrence for member-states to decide to hold such hearings at all.  The UN has faced some controversy, internally and publicly, regarding 1) transparency in general, and 2) the participation of civil society in the Global Compact process.  Many actors within the UN strongly believe that the voices of migrants and civil society representatives should be heard in the process.  Others do not.  

Fifty member-states attended—which is an unprecedented number for civil society hearings.  Ordinarily, when this sort of thing occurs, only a handful show up.  So states were listening.  The meeting was chaired by the UN Representatives from Switzerland and Mexico. I was the sole representative of academia in attendance.  In my speech, I advocated for the critical role of academics' participation in creating the global compact, ability to explain it to the public and our students, and in collecting data and ensuring the best possible research and program designs to make sure the Compact benefits migrants and states.  I talked a bit about my own work as an example of what academics might do.

The atmosphere highlighted the importance of the meeting.  The event was held in the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber -- one of the three chambers on the 3rd floor of the UN, along with the Economic and Social Council (EcoSoc) and Security Council chambers.  The Trusteeship Council was formed in 1945 to oversee decolonization of territories placed under UN Trusteeship.  It disbanded in 1994 when Palau became independent.  The incredibly beautiful room remains, as a gift from Denmark.  As the renovation architect from the Danish Ministry for Culture said when the room reopened, “When you think about how many decisions of great magnitude are made in that chamber, it is good to know, that they are made in a room with such a pleasant atmosphere.”  The decision to include the voices of migrants, and civil society actors in the Global Compact process is a decision of great magnitude that could affect the lives of many vulnerable individuals as well as international security.  I can only hope that the UN member states choose to do so.   

Posted by Orly Lobel on December 14, 2016 at 03:07 PM | Permalink


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