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UN conference adopts global migration pact despite withdrawals

Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP | Migrants on board the Aquarius, a humanitarian boat run by SOS Méditerranée, off the coast of Sicily, on May 2018.

A United Nations conference on Monday adopted a global pact to better handle migrant flows, despite a string of withdrawals driven by anti-immigrant populism.

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The non-binding deal was adopted in front of leaders and representatives from around 150 countries gathered for a two-day conference in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.

Called The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the pact was finalised at the UN in July after 18 months of talks and was formally approved on Monday by fewer governments then had previously worked on the proposal.

Describing it as a "roadmap to prevent suffering and chaos", UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres sought to dispel what he called a number of myths around the pact, including claims that it will allow the UN to impose migration policies on member states.

The pact "is not legally binding", he said. "It is a framework for international co-operation... that specifically reaffirms the principle of state sovereignty.

"We must not succumb to fear and false narratives", he added, addressing an audience that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela and Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras.

Several EU members shun the accord

The United States on Friday had hit out at the pact, labelling it "an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of states".

The US was the first government to disavow the negotiations late 2017. Since then, Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia have also pulled out of the process. On Sunday, Chile was the latest country to shun the deal.

Rows over the deal have erupted in several European Union nations over the past days. Belgium's coalition government was hobbled and Slovakia's foreign minister was pushed to tender his resignation.

UN migration pact has ‘turned into a flashpoint’ for debate in Europe, says France 24's Dave Keating

From the United States to Europe and beyond, right-wing and populist leaders have taken increasingly draconian measures to shut out migrants in recent years.

US President Donald Trump has pledged to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and has focused his recent ire on a migrant caravan from Central America, while a populist coalition government in Italy has clamped down on boats rescuing migrants at sea.

Belgium's liberal premier Charles Michel went back to Morocco to back the accord after winning the support of parliament. He is nevertheless left leading a minority government on Sunday after the Flemish nationalist party announced it will quit his coalition over the pact.

Like Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Israel, Slovenia and Switzerland, Belgium is still “engaged in further internal deliberations" over the accord, the UN's special representative for migration Louise Arbour said.

'Based on goodwill'

While welcoming the UN's attempts to manage migration, activists argue that the pact does not go far enough to secure migrants' rights.

"It is very aspirational in many areas, with limited implementation commitments," said Amnesty International's senior advocate for the Americas, Perseo Quiroz, in comments emailed to AFP.

The agreement's non-binding status and the inclusion of several specific clauses on sovereignty "makes its implementation solely based on the goodwill of states supporting it", he added.

After the Marrakesh conference, the UN General Assembly is set to adopt a resolution formally endorsing the deal on December 19.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)

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