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Opening remarks by the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection UN Network on Migration Briefing to Member States Commissioner's Programme

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Opening remarks by the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection UN Network on Migration Briefing to Member States Commissioner's Programme

19 October 2021

On behalf of the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, I am pleased to contribute to this briefing to Member States in preparation for the International Migration Review Forum of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) to be held next year.

Building on regional reviews over the last few months, the International Forum will be the first global opportunity to assess the practical implementation of the Migration Compact, and to enable all stakeholders to consider progress and lessons learned, especially in this challenging time of COVID-19.

UNHCR along with other UN agencies, fully supports the collective role of the Migration Network in supporting States to implement the Migration Compact and we urge Member States to be proactive contributors to the Review.

This year, UNHCR reported 82.4 million people globally are forcibly displaced, including about 26 million asylum seekers and refugees. The number of people on the move, migrating to other countries is significantly higher. While migration has been part of the human experience throughout history, today migration is, as the Migration Compact says, “the defining feature of our globalized world”. Global migration connects societies as never before, making us all countries of origin, of transit and of destination.

The Compact for Migration also recognizes that ‘no state can address migration alone’. The Compact is a non-legally binding cooperative arrangement that is founded in the New York Declaration for both refugees and migrants. The Declaration acknowledges that refugees and migrants share many common challenges and vulnerabilities.  

The Migration Compact has 23 objectives for safe, orderly and regular migration, most of which are similarly relevant for international protection of asylum seekers and refugees: evidence based policies, adverse drivers of movement such a climate change, the need for legal identity and documentation, responses to trafficking in persons, detention as a last resort, inclusion in basic social services, non-discriminatory recognition of qualifications, and safe and dignified returns of those not in need of international protection.

In short, all migrants and refugees are entitled to the same universal human rights and fundamental freedoms regardless of their legal status. It is for this reason that the two Compacts need to be implemented coherently and should be mutually reinforcing. By this I mean that we need to think holistically across all global movements of peoples.

I have recently returned from a mission in Mexico and North Central America – Guatemala and El Salvador – transit and destination countries for migrants and refugees from Venezuela, Haiti, Brazil and Honduras, among other nations in the region, in addition to also being countries of origin. As regular migration opportunities are too few, with pathways such as education, labour mobility and family reunions not providing solutions for most, migrants turn to the asylum system to gain a legal status and documents that will allow them to travel. The limited opportunities for regular migration have had the unintended consequence of overloading national asylum systems, in many cases to the point of collapse.  In Mexico for example, a dramatic increase in asylum applications from people who are unlikely to meet the legal test for refugee protection threatens the integrity of the whole asylum system.

If, by contrast, we work with nations to expand their regular migration pathways and offer realistic options such as livelihoods and education, it will become possible to alleviate the pressure on protection space and strengthen the asylum system to provide solutions for those most in need of international protection.

In recognizing the common objectives of the two Compacts on Migration and Refugees, we should also understand that migrants and refugees are distinct groups governed by separate legal frameworks. Only refugees are entitled to specific protection under international refugee law. A refugee may never, for example, be returned to a place of violence or persecution or be penalised for seeking access to asylum in another country.

What then has been the UN’s Refugee Agency’s added value to collaborating to implement the Compact for Migration?

Through the UN Network on Migration, UNHCR with other UN partners has contributed to the work of the Migration Compact by:

  • Seconding an experienced colleague to the Network Secretariat.
  • Participating in the thematic Working Groups and preparation of policy documents on returns in safety and dignity, pathways for regular migration and alternatives to detention.
  • Building capacity for Resident Coordinators and UNCT’s in countries with population movements by, for example, Guidance on good practices and advocacy on COVID vaccinations.
  • Taking part in regional and country migration networks in, for example, Latin America, Asia Pacific, African and Arab countries.  In Europe, for example, UNHCR co-chairs the regional migration network as part of the Issue Based Coalition on Large Movements of people, Displacement and Resilience (LMPDR) illustrating how the two Compacts on Migration and Refugees can and do complement each other, without duplication.
  • Supporting Member States in implementation of the Migration Compact through the regional reviews and follow up.
  • Efforts to strengthen cooperation among UN Agencies and stakeholders on migration issues through, for example, the interagency group on regular pathways in Mexico.

All actions to implement the Migration Compact have depended on adequate funding.

State governments have provided financial support through the Migration MPTF, a mechanism designed to facilitate implementation of the Compact. The fund brings UN agencies and national actors with complementary skills and knowledge together to find practical, concrete solutions.

  • UNHCR and other Network Partners have joined four programs under MPTF funding including in South Africa, Chile, Mexico, North Macedonia and the IGAD region.
  • These projects adopt the Migration Compact objectives of evidence and data-driven policies, the integration of migrants in society and an assessment of climate change as an increasingly dangerous driver of migration.

As work progresses at regional and global levels to prepare for the International Migration Review Forum next year, may I suggest that some of the techniques used to implement the Refugee Compact may be useful models.

  • For example, UNHCR will, on 16 November, release an Indicator Report for the High-Level Officials Meeting in December which will provide hard evidence of how the Refugee Compact has been implemented in practice. The Report will show how the pledges and initiatives by stakeholders have been met, even in this time of COVID-19.  The UN Secretary-General has, for example, made a common pledge on behalf of all UN agencies advocating the inclusion of refugees in national plans and budgets.  The Indicator Report will hold our collective feet to the fire for accountability to our member states and civil society for concrete, demonstrable impacts.

UNHCR has learned much from our stocktaking of the Compact on Refugees. Similarly, the Review Forum next year of the Migration Compact can help to generate the political will to implement the Migration Compact and to energise stakeholders – local governments, the private sector, faith groups, parliamentarians, scholars and civil society – to redouble their efforts to respond humanely to the ever-increasing numbers of migrants on the move globally.

I look forward to the discussion today and thank you all for contributing to this vital process of review and reflection.