Blog post written by Dr Christina Oelgemoller (Loughborough University) and Nicholas Maple (RLI) and forms part of a series of blog posts analysing the final draft (objective by objective) of the UN’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.




Objective 23 of the Global Compact for Migration is titled ‘Strengthen international cooperation and global partnerships for safe, orderly and regular migration’. Its key content and direction is expressed in the introductory paragraph of the final version where the objective ‘[underscores] the specific challenges faced in particular by African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States, and middle-income countries’. Given that, arguably, all of the Global Compact for Migration relates to international cooperation and partnerships, it is an interesting Objective, not least as it was added rather late in the process of negotiations in which governments of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) engaged. The document, which is based on the New York Declaration of September 2016, had already undergone three rounds of negotiations and changes to its language by the time the African Group was successful in convincing other parties to agreeing to include it. With other sections, namely paragraph 15 and paragraphs under the heading of ‘Implementation’ outlining how the Global Compact was to be implemented and by whom, the Objective’s title is a little misleading. One might think that this objective is written in the spirit of say, the ICESCR Article 2(1), in which international cooperation and assistance are invoked with the apparent aim of achieving maximum realisation of specific norms (in this case, safe and orderly migration).


The Objective does not quite do that. Essentially, this Objective frames the interaction between the rich Global North and the Global South as recipient countries of ‘financial and technical assistance’, as it is phrased in Objective 23. One might be forgiven to think that such a differentiation undermines the emphasis adopted through the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. The Agenda constructs sustainable development as a universal good which aims at development in all countries, as such it underscores the importance of not making crude differences between Global North and Global South, but approaching poverty alleviation and the fight against inequality everywhere. Based on this conundrum we wonder if this Objective genuinely acknowledges hierarchical power-relations between countries whilst acknowledging that migrants bring benefits to all countries they interact with; or if it is a re-hashing of old myths whereby governments hope that investing in development initiatives is used as a deterrence mechanism to restrict the mobility of people and used as a justification for gaining funding for national governments in the Global South? More directly, what, in addition to other Objectives, does this Objective say about international cooperation and global partnerships?


In the following we will show that this Objective is quite ambivalent in what it communicates about cooperation and partnership.


Approaches, mechanisms and relationships


Objective 23, paragraph 39 a) of the final version of the Global Compact states that ‘provision of financial and technical assistance, in line with national priorities [is to be achieved] through a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach’. The latter reference to the approaches was the only substantial change of language between the introduction of the Objective in Draft REV 2 and the final draft. These approaches are set out in paragraph 15 of the Global Compact under the heading ‘Our Vision and Guiding Principles’. Clearly, in the context of a ‘whole-of-government’ approach as a guiding principle the negotiating parties have taken their cue from civil society, as well as more specifically academic input. Research has pointed out for a long time that diverse units of governments, including local authorities and municipalities, need to work more in concert (Balbo and Marconi, 2005; Landau and Segatti, April 2009) in order to both live up to a government’s legal obligations of protection and to enhance the potential arising out of international human mobility. That this approach is being taken seriously was expressed at the end of 2017 when 130 cities globally signed a letter sent to the co-facilitators of the negotiation process asking to be better included in the process (Allen-Ebrahimian, 5 December 2017). Thus, when paragraph 15 calls on governments to ensure ‘coherence across sectors and levels of governance’, it seems that the Global Compact is genuine in aiming to operationalise the general intention expressed in the New York Declaration that international human mobility is to be reframed more constructively so as to acknowledge the positive impact arising out of international mobility at all levels, including the local level of governance. However, the only Objective other than 23 that makes reference to a ‘whole-of-government approach’ is Objective 11, which clearly locates this principle at the national level and in the context of border control. Such a reading then calls into question what, exactly, might be meant when a whole-of-government approach is referred to in the context of discussing the relationship between the Global North and the Global South. What we have in mind here is that in recent decades some of the development-oriented financial assistance provided by the Global North was linked to human mobility and given for the expressed purpose of containment as the research by Shacknove (1993) or Hyndman (2000) (amongst a variety of studies) shows.


Further, the wording in Objective 23 paragraph 39 a) also seems to indicate that more than lip service is to be paid to participatory approaches here called ‘whole-of-society approach’, especially taking account of paragraph 39 c) which explicitly states that local authorities amongst other stakeholders are to be ‘involved and supported’. Both paragraphs 15 and 44 of the final draft of the Global Compact clarify who is to be included when governing international human mobility inclusively by all of society. This ranges from faith-based and other civil society organisations to now also include migrants themselves, the private sector, the media and parliamentarians and others. This is a new development, not because many of these stakeholders had not been involved in practices around migration governance – they have; but rather the novel development appears to be that responsibility for implementing the Global Compact is shifting to those who encounter the phenomenon of international human mobility in all its complexity locally, rather than relying on an often heavy-handed and essentialising approach by national governments who emphasise their sovereign prerogative over controlling access to territory (see Preamble, paragraph 15, Objective 11). It thus seems that local government and locally based groups of society are at the heart of new ways to cooperate and partner in the area of migration governance.


In addition to cooperation as described above, Objective 23 paragraph 39 d) states that governments of the UNGA commit to ‘make use of the capacity-building mechanism’ and to build on ‘other existing instruments’. The understanding of what capacity-building means in the Global Compact conflicts with how capacity-building is usually understood when it comes to governing international migration; namely, that enforcement units of governments of the Global North train enforcement units of countries in the Global South (see for example: Andersson, 2014) which is possibly more closely reflected in Objective 9 on Smuggling and Objective 11 on Managing borders. Yet, what is interesting in Objective 23 paragraph 39 d) and the relevant paragraph under the heading of  ‘Implementation’ is that here, a regional approach to all development-related activities of the UN system, including the GCM, implemented by the international system is envisaged.


UN-type capacity building has developed out of two processes that run parallel to the negotiations of the Global Compact. First there is a process that accumulated in the UNGA resolution 72/279 adopted on 31 May 2018. The resolution sets out a repositioning of the UN development system roughly based on a (re)generation of country teams supported by a resident coordinator system within a regional approach. The restructuring to achieve this repositioning is to take place through the course of 2018/19. A second process was a consultation, which took place within the remit of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, amongst the UN and its agencies as well as others to collate, report on and make recommendations as to how best the UN system was to respond to expectations set by the Global Compact.


In May 2018 there was thus a push by the Special Representative and by the co-facilitators to focus on international cooperation and capacity-building, which was also supported a little later in a commentary by the Deputy Secretary-General who linked the two processes to include in paragraph 43 a description of what capacity-building was to entail: a connection hub that facilitates demand-driven solutions, a start-up fund and a global knowledge platform. This capacity-building mechanism seems to support the whole-of-society approach by enabling ‘the mobilizing [of] technical, financial and human resources’ which can be claimed by all those actors identified as responsible for implementing the Global Compact (see Objective 23 paragraph 39 d) and paragraphs 43 and 44).


What we see, in summary, is an interesting shifting of governance up to regionalised UN mechanisms on the one hand and a shifting down to local-level governance.  If this were genuinely meant to support the eradication of poverty and inequality, this would indeed be progressive. Yet, reading Objective 23 paragraph 39 b) more carefully we learn that ‘cooperation [is] to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in geographic areas from where irregular migration systematically originates …’. This is one of the three reasons the African Group had used to advocate for ‘their’ objective. The other two reasons that financial assistance was needed were that ‘tensions’ in the context of repatriation needed to be regulated and that humanitarian assistance was required. These, however, have not appeared in any of the negotiated draft versions, probably for obvious juridical and political reasons.


The Future


So, what do we learn about international cooperation and partnerships from this Objective? As indicated above, Objective 23 in conjunction with paragraphs 15, 43 and 44 raise interesting intellectual and practical problems about changes in the governance of international migration and more broadly the configuration of global order where there is emphasis on the supra-national/international on the one hand and the local on the other. What possibly new role does this assign to the nation-state? How do we implement international governance at the local, municipal level? Geographers and other academics have been thinking about this for a while now, but how will academic lawyers, international lawyers, political scientists and international relations scholars approach this interesting problem and very practical problem? And how do these groups interact with the professional groups active in the field?


More concretely, reading the original proposal of the African Group for Objective 23, it could also be interpreted that, however crude the differentiation into Global North and South is, some governments wanted to remind some other governments that very real burden-sharing via financial assistance should not be forgotten. This is despite declarations that all of the world still needs to fight poverty and inequality. Yet, the very clear reference to ‘irregular migration’ and the fact that the two ‘whole-of-‘ approaches appear in two objectives which clearly are of greater interest to governments of the Global North, we might be justified in thinking that Objective 23 reads more like a partnership of deterrence and collusion in cooperation.





Allen-Ebrahimian, Bethany (2017) ‘US Cities Want to Join U.N. Migration talks that Trump boycotted’ Foreign Policy,[Accessed 7 August 2018]

Andersson, Ruben (2014) Illegality, Inc. Clandestine migration and the business of bordering Europe Oakland, CA: University of California Press

Balbo, Marcello and Marconi, Giovanna (2005) ‘Governing international migration in the city of the south 2005’ Global Commission on International Migration

Hyndman, Jennifer (2000) Managing Displacement, Refugees and the Politics of Humanitarianism University of Minnesota Press

Landau, Loren B. and Segatti, Aurelia Wa Kabwe (2009) ‘Human Development Impacts of Migration: South Africa Case Study’ Human Development Research Paper 2009/05, UNDP

Shacknove, Andrew (1993) From Asylum to containment International Journal of Refugee Law (5):516


The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Refugee Law InitiativeWe welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below and see here for contribution guidelines.