The world’s approach to migration is painfully broken. The Global Compact can fix it.

by Francesco Rocca | IFRC
Friday, 7 December 2018 13:30 GMT

A migrant rests on the Vos Hestia ship after being rescued by the "Save the Children" NGO crew in the Mediterranean sea off the Libya coast, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

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Our message is crystal clear: save lives, protect human dignity, and seize this opportunity to make a difference for millions of people

Francesco Rocca is the IFRC president.

At the beginning of next week, the international community will gather in Marrakech to discuss and hopefully adopt a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

I say “hopefully” because after 18 months of engagement, dialogue and discussions, the past few weeks have seen several governments either withdraw from or put on hold their involvement in this important process.

The Global Compact for Migration is an opportunity to fix a global approach to migration that does not work; that is simply, and painfully, broken.

Too many people are dying every day. Too many people are suffering. Too many children face abuse and violence. And too many people are being exploited by traffickers and smugglers who are all too happy to exploit this massive international gap.

We hope that governments will come together and sign this agreement. The principles of the Global Compact for Migration, at least from a humanitarian perspective, are absolutely fine: it is an important framework to protect lives and human dignity. But signing it won’t be enough. The next and more important step is to turn the ambitions of this document into concrete actions that make a difference on the ground.

This won’t be easy. There is a disconnect between the laudable language of the Global Compact, and a hardening of hearts and policies in some parts of the world. Earlier this year, my organization (the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) documented the emergence of a “New Walled Order” - a world where arbitrary barriers to basic services have turned migration into a humanitarian crisis.

These barriers - that include the criminalization of humanitarian assistance, the withholding of critical information, legal advice, health care or shelter, and the failure to address indirect blockages to these services, such as language issues - increase suffering unnecessarily. They are also a boon for traffickers, who are all too keen to peddle “solutions” to desperate people. Every new barrier, new wall, new draconian policy is a business opportunity for these peddlers of human misery.

These are the messages that IFRC will be taking to Marrakech. But we will also be coming with solutions. As recommended by the Global Compact, we want to work with governments to create a network of “humanitarian service points” (also known as “safe spaces” or “information points”) where migrants can access basic services and information, without fear of reprisal. This point is crucial: experience has shown time and again that people will only reach out for support if they know they can do so without being approached by immigration services.

These service points already exist in many places - in Mexico, Italy, Niger, Sweden and Austria, to name just a few examples. With support from governments, we can quickly expand these and help them deliver on some of the core Global Compact ambitions and commitments.

We are not naive. We know that migration is a complex and often divisive issue. But we also know that there are activities that can be implemented now and can make the difference for the lives of thousands of people.

Governments have the right to set migration policies and to manage their borders. We are not questioning this. However, what we are saying is that they do not have the right to implement migration policy in a manner that needlessly increases suffering.

Our message is crystal clear: save lives, protect human dignity, and seize this opportunity to make a difference for millions of people.