Why a Growing Number of Nations are Rejecting the UN Migration Pact -The Story So Far

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Why a Growing Number of Nations are Rejecting the UN Migration Pact -The Story So Far

-By Preetam Kaushik

In the last 15 years or so, migration has evolved into one of the biggest challenges facing the international community in the dawn of the 21st century. It reached a gruesome crescendo of sorts since 2015 in the Mediterranean, with more than 3000 people drowning annually while attempting to reach Europe from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), also called the UN Migration Pact, was a direct response to this massive human tragedy. It is the first-ever international agreement on the issue of migration.

But as migration continues to evolve as a politically charged and often explosive issue across the world, the Migration Pact has come under fire from numerous quarters. Several nations have backtracked and withdrawn from the pact.

With just a few weeks left until its official adoption in December 2018, these setbacks highlight the magnitude of the challenges we face from migration. It brings to the fore the following questions:

    • Why do we need a Global Migration Pact?


    • What is the UN Migration Pact?


    • Which nations are leaving the Migration pact, and why?


  • How does that affect the Pact?

The Need for A Global Migration Pact

Migration has been an endemic feature in human history, right from the days of our early hominid ancestors. Humans colonized the entire planet due to our migratory ways. When nomadic lifestyle made way for settled agriculture, migration did not disappear.

People were still forced to migrate due to war, famine, or enticed by the promise of a better life in a foreign land. Since the 20th century, conflict and poverty have been the primary reason for large-scale migrations.

The last great wave of migration was after WWII. But due to increasing poverty, bloody conflicts, and possible climate change, we are seeing large-scale migrations of the levels last seen in the 1940s and 50s. 

These forced migrations come at a significant human cost: with trafficking, exploitation, xenophobia, violence, poverty, death, all wreaking havoc. Countries forced to accept migrants face economic costs as well as social and political unrest. 

The international community has a variety of organizations and agreements to deal with global issues like poverty, climate change, and terrorism. But so far, migration is one issue that has been left largely unaddressed. This is why the need for a Global Migration Pact was felt acutely in 2015, during the peak of the immigrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

What is the GCM, A.K.A, the UN Migration Pact?

The GCM is an international agreement under the auspices of the United Nations. 192 UN member nations came together to discuss the possibility of the first-ever global agreement on migration in 2016. The negotiation process took 18 months, resulting in the Migration Pact.

The contents of the pact were finalized and informally agreed upon by the participating countries in July 2018 at the UN. The formal adoption of the UN Migration Pact is slated to happen at the Marrakech Conference on 10-11 December 2018.

The following are the main highlights of the Pact:

Very Comprehensive Approach

The Pact has 23 objectives for tackling various issues related to migration. It aspires to address the issue at local, national, regional, and global levels. The GCM is concerned about the rights of the migrants as well as the nation states.

A Non-Binding Agreement

The UN Migration Pact does not have any lofty ideals removed from the current reality. Migration is a sensitive issue that often challenges the sovereignty of a nation. This pact does not force a member nation to accept refugees or any obligations of economic or political nature.

Aims To Bring Stability & Order

On the one hand, the Pact aims to make migration less chaotic and more orderly. On the other, it also aims to make it easier for nations to accept or reject asylum seekers. Provisions are also in place to try and remove the causes of migration and repatriate migrants to their home countries peacefully.

Focus On Saving Lives & Removing Exploitation

It calls for more secure borders, with a focus on reducing the evil of human trafficking and exploitation. There is a clear attempt to prevent the kind of tragedies that we have witnessed in recent years in the Mediterranean, and across Latin America.

Which nations have left the UN Pact, and why?

The UN Migration Pact has gone to great lengths to ensure that the rights and concerns of individual nations are not ignored in this agreement. Despite this, several nations have voiced their disappointment or opposition with the deal in recent months and weeks, citing various issues.

Here is a list of all the countries who have either left (or threatened to quit) the GCM so far.

United States

Despite being probably the biggest blow to the Pact, the US withdrawal from the agreement negotiations in December last year did not come as a surprise to many. President Trump is known for his hostile stance towards illegal migrants. President Trump believes in the sovernity of the nations to decide whether to let in migrants or not, and ordered the withdrawal of the country from the GCM in 2017.


A country that was at the center of the refugee crisis in 2015, Hungary followed the US to become the second nation to walk away from the UN Migration Pact in July 2018. Though they cited security concerns as the main reason, domestic politics and government ideologies played a crucial role in this decision.


The Austrian government decided not to sign the UN Migration Pact in October 2018. Like Trump in the US and Viktor Orban in Hungary, the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was elected on an anti-immigrant manifesto.


Like its neighbor Hungary, Poland has faced significant unrest in recent years due to the refugee crisis.The country’s Christian Right-Wing government withdrew from the GCM in November 2018, citing the same reasons as the other nations before it

Bulgaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Switzerland

These smaller Balkan and Central European states have all publicly expressed their decisions to withdraw from the Migration Pact. The decision to withdraw from the Migration pact was announced in November by the smaller Balkan and Central European states, but there is still some confusion regarding the final stance of Croatia and Bulgaria.

Israel and Australia

Israel declared its withdrawal in late November 2018, citing border security concerns. There is significant unrest in the country regarding a growing population of immigrants from Africa. Australia has also expressed hostility towards the project, echoing similar concerns.


The latest big European nation to oppose the UN Migration Pact is Italy, which has been a favored destination for immigrants from across the Mediterranean. The government under Giuseppe Conte has grabbed headlines with a crackdown against immigrants in recent times. The decision was made after discussions in the Parliament.

All the above nations have several common features which explain their decision to quit the UN Migration Pact:

    • They all face significant domestic pressure due to an influx of immigrants and refugees.


    • They all have elected leaders and governments who promised a tough stance towards immigration.


    • They all object to the agreement provisions that call for safer and more orderly migration.


  • They want to make a clearer distinction between economic migrants and political asylum seekers.

What Does This Mean For The UN Migration Pact?

Many of these nations are destinations for migrants from the poorest regions on earth. Their absence from the Pact does hurt its long-term effectiveness. But political expediency is a major cause for the decision of most of these nations. With a future change in government policy, they could easily return to the fold.

Besides, there is simply no established international framework to deal with the immigration crisis at the moment. Having a balanced platform like the GCM in place, that too with the support of close to 180 countries is in itself a big win. It is much better than the alternative.

The Pact cannot bring change overnight, or remove migration altogether. That is virtually impossible. What it can do is try and reduce the atrocities and suffering associated with migration, and try to make things easier for all parties. Under the circumstances, that is the best we all can hope for.

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