UN's Global Compact on Refugees

Pooling forces to better protect the defenceless

Wars and civil wars around the world have swollen the ranks of those forced to leave their homes to around 68.5 million people. 67 years after the 1951 Refugee Convention came into effect, that is a new record. The international community is pooling forces to address this trend with an additional Global Compact.

Refugee camp in Libya

Refugee camp in Libya

Photo: UNHCR / A. Duclos

Major migration movements, like those seen in Europe in the wake of the Second World War, are a global challenge. The United Nations has taken on this massive challenge. There can be no doubt that displacement is a global phenomenon – a reality that demands a global response and can only be effectively addressed with multilateral efforts.

These efforts include accepting shared responsibility and ensuring fairer burden sharing. Germany has declared its commitment to these goals and reaffirms the shared will of the international community to help ensure the better steering of worldwide migrant movements at global level.

Better protection for refugees

The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) now negotiated by the United Nations is a step in the right direction. It complements the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Germany is still committed, since it provides the international legal framework for protecting refugees. Its humanist approach aims to help, protect and strengthen refugees.

"Human dignity shall be inviolable." This very first and most fundamental sentence of Article 1 of Germany’s Basic Law or constitution is universally valid. It commits every one of us to see the whole of humanity in every other individual, irrespective of their gender or their background, and it thus obliges us to treat every other individual well. The 1951 Refugee Convention builds on this humanist principle of enlightenment and endeavours to learn a lesson about minimum humanitarian standards from the two world wars.

Unlike the Refugee Convention, this new Global Compact on Refugees is not legally binding, but is a political declaration of intent and a declaration of voluntary commitment. For Germany, however, which already meets, or more than meets, practically all of the provisions, it is an important basis on which to remind other states of their duties.

Germany is free to act and will remain so

The national sovereignty of individual states is not affected in any way by the GCR. That means, bearing in mind existing legal commitments under the Refugee Convention, that Germany will remain free to decide for itself on the appropriate and acceptable refugee policy for the country.

The German government thus affirms its commitment to this new Refugee Compact because its goals are fully aligned with Germany’s interests, which we look at in more detail below.

More equitable sharing of responsibility at international level

Hitherto ten states, including Germany, have taken in 80 per cent of refugees worldwide. Only 15 states provide financial support for the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, with each providing a minimum of 20 million US dollars. In 2017 Germany provided 477 million US dollars. A great many other states are thus called on to do more.

For better procedures

Host countries in the affected regions are to receive better support so that they do not themselves suffer great hardship, thus preventing further onward migration movements. This is linked to a commitment to helping migrants to return to their own countries in safety, security and dignity as the preferred solution.

More effective use of funds

What is also important is the effort to ensure the effective and efficient use of German funds (financial controlling). It must be ensured that they are not used unproductively and equally that they are not syphoned off for dubious purposes. On the other hand, what is needed is forward-looking support and planning for eventualities in potential host countries. The aim must always be to ensure that support is provided as close to home as possible, in order to avoid larger-scale migration movements.

Targeted efforts to address the root causes of displacement

The Global Compact on Refugees is also a firm commitment to addressing the factors that cause people to leave their homes in the first place and to crisis prevention. Germany has been working on this for years, and has already entered into several agreements with African states in particular. Preliminary services have already been delivered.

Better documenting individuals

Technology too plays an important part in dealing better with people who are fleeing their homes. Part of this is for affected countries to be given assistance with the individual registration and documentation of migrants. Nobody should be left without identification papers. That is a clear commitment to improving the data situation.

National security is a legitimate interest

The security aspect is vitally important if the Global Compact on Refugees is to be accepted in Germany. Possible fears regarding migration movements can be better defused in future, as the Compact naturally recognises the legitimate security concerns of host states, including Germany.

The databases already mentioned for identity checks are one aspect of this. They make it possible to run security and health checks on potential candidates. The more we know about who we are dealing with, the more certain we can be that nobody enters the country who is not authorised to do so.

Processes with public participation

The international community clearly expressed their conviction of the need to protect refugees, a conviction that has its roots in the experience of the Second World War, back in September 2016 in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. This declaration also laid out the processes to be used to elaborate two Global Compacts – one on refugees and one on safe, orderly and regular migration.

Since then, these work processes have been public. State and non-governmental actors have been able to get involved and influence proceedings (including members of civil society, member of political parties and non-governmental organisations, and representatives of the media).

Around 176 member states of the United Nations agreed on the final version of the Global Compact on Refugees in October 2018 after much debate. The starting point of this Global Compact was the New York Declaration of September 2016.

A commitment to more effective cooperation

With its support for the two New York Compacts, the Federal Republic of Germany aims to send a signal that global challenges call for coordinated multilateral solutions. Unilateral national actions will end in an impasse. Which is why Germany has repeatedly called for joint action.

The German government has been endeavouring for some time now to address the challenges posed by displacement and illegal migration within a European and international framework, and to identify effective solutions.

In addition to the Global Compact on Refugees, on 10/11 December 2018 in Marrakesh (Morocco) a separate Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) will be adopted. Like the Global Compact on Refugees it is not legally binding but expresses a political commitment. This Compact too is based on the 2016 New York Declaration. While the Global Compact on Refugees was drafted under the aegis of the UN Refugee Agency, the United Nations itself produced the Global Compact on Migration.