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World & Nation

United Nations General Assembly endorses global migration accord

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United Nations’ Secretary-General Antonio Guterres holds a press conference in Rimbo, north of Stockholm on Dec. 13.
(Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations General Assembly endorsed a sweeping accord to ensure safe and orderly migration Wednesday over opposition from five countries, including the United States and Hungary.

The Global Compact for Migration, the first international document dealing with the issue, is not legally binding. But the escalating debate over people leaving their home countries for new ones has sparked increasing opposition and reservations among the U.N.'s 193 member states.

The General Assembly resolution endorsing the compact was approved by a vote of 152-5 with Israel, the Czech Republic and Poland also voting “no” and 12 countries abstaining. The vote in favor of the resolution was lower than the 164 countries that approved the agreement by acclamation at a conference in Marrakech, Morocco, earlier this month.

The compact represents a U.N.-led effort to crack down on the often dangerous and illegal movements of people across borders that have turned human smuggling into a worldwide industry, and to give migrants seeking economic opportunity a chance to find it.

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the resolution’s adoption, saying the compact provides a platform for international cooperation that points the way “toward humane and sensible action to benefit countries of origin, transit and destination as well as migrants themselves.”

“It calls for greater solidarity with migrants in situations of appalling vulnerability and abuse,” the U.N. chief said. “And it highlights the imperative of devising more legal pathways for migration, which would also help to crack down on trafficking and exploitation.”

Guterres told the Marrakech conference that “more than 60,000 migrants have died on the move since the year 2000" and called the loss of lives “a source of collective shame.”

The secretary-general and other supporters of the compact contend that migrants contribute to the world economy, including by providing needed workers in aging rich countries and returning cash to poorer home countries through remittances.

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The United States and other opponents argue that the compact is attempting to “globalize” how migration is carried out at the expense of the sovereignty of individual countries, and is trying to make new international law. Supporters counter that the compact is non-binding and every country remains sovereign and in charge of its borders and migration policy.

Before the vote, General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa called the compact “a historic opportunity to cooperate, exchange good practices and learn from each other so that migration, a phenomenon that has marked the history of humanity, benefits all of us.”

By contrast, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, whose country’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban is vehemently opposed to migration, warned the assembly that approving the “unbalanced, biased and extremely pro-migration” compact would be “a serious mistake.”

“Migration is a dangerous phenomenon” that has destabilized countries of origin and transit and “put enormous security risk on countries of destination,” he said.


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