Blog post written by Dr Christina Oelgemoller (Loughborough University) and forms part of a series of blog posts examining the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Objective 19 plays an important role in the context of the Global Compact as it is one of the objectives which has as a focus the perspective that ‘migrants and diasporas’ can be facilitated to participate in bringing about sustainable development. The heart of this Objective is hidden in paragraph 35 (h) calling on governments to establish constructive participation to achieve the SDGs ‘by facilitating flexible modalities’. This begs the question of who is to be facilitated and what ‘flexible modalities’ might be? 

Objective 19 reflects a tension that concerns the ‘who’ question of facilitation. The imaginations about who ‘contributing migrants and diasporas’ are is riddled with problematic assumptions about the linearity of mobility, belonging to a community and confused notions of loyalty and demands in relation to integration into host communities as well as return to an imagined origin. Migrant and diaspora groups can happily belong to multiple places, governments seem to find this idea perplexing. In other words, the tension in how migrants and diasporas are conceptualised is in tension with the lived reality of many of these migrants and diaspora groups. This tension is one factor that makes the implementation of this Objective challenging, because such conceptualisation does not actually allow for ‘flexibility’. What follows is that, whoever is to be facilitated to contribute to sustainable development needs security of legal status to ensure flexibility. Secure and reliable legal status facilitates circulation of not only ideas and goods, but also of people who make ideas and goods circulate in the first place. Such circulation then ensures sustainability and therewith development. What then are such modalities, or at least preconditions for the establishment of flexible modalities? In the context of Objective 19 flexible modalities would be any such measures that facilitate an engagement with sustainable development on the part of mobile people generally speaking. Surely the two most important aspects here are non-discrimination and freedom of movement as preconditions for being able to have a secure status that facilitates being politically, economically and socially active so as to generate that which leads to development.

What are indicators of compliance?

The very brief discussion above would indicate that one of the most important indicators for this Objective is non-discrimination and the active assurance of freedoms, though it also touches on a set of rights that are crucial for its success. There are thus three broad areas to be concerned with: 1. the most fundamental principle for this Objective is non-discrimination; 2. based on this attention needs to be paid to crucial freedoms; and finally, 3. specific rights need to be granted. Political commitments made in this objective are best complied with through institutional monitoring.

1. Non-discrimination (Article 2 of ICCPR, Article 2 ICERD, Article 2 CEDAW and HRC Gen Comm No 15 (1986) on the Conditions of Aliens)

Beyond the problematic assumptions elaborated above, Objective 19 seems to make differing assumptions in the action points as to who a migrant is who might want to contribute to sustainable development and what constitutes a diaspora group. Structures set up to create conditions to contribute to sustainable development need to be shown to be designed in such a way that no individual or group is discriminated against. This concerns individuals with different legal status, but it also concerns assumptions about loyalties to what is identified as country of origin, which may not be meaningful for some individuals or groups who wish to engage. Migrants, just as diaspora groups, are not homogenous: an indication of success is thus that the conditions created allows for a wide range of diversity. One way countries can make sure that such a range of diversity is enabled is to allow for a body, such as a Human Rights institution, which is not only the body to receive complaints but has a mandate to pro-actively monitor flexibility of modalities.

2. Freedoms (according to the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

The following freedoms are imperative for the successful implementation of this Objective, to ensure actions under Objective 19 can be done regular monitoring by a Human Rights Institution, which is also mandated to receive and respond to complaints, and civil liberties watch bodies should be in place.

  • Freedom from interference/right to privacy (Art. 12 UDHR)

    Following from the above point in examining the implementation and potential success of the Objective, checks need to be in place to evidence that migrants and diaspora groups in their wide diversity are not imposed upon to contribute to sustainable development by governmental and international governmental organizations. Equally, if individuals and groups do engage with sustainable development they do so as private people, there need to be measures in place to support such activities without co-opting migrants and diaspora groups unduly. Nor should the process of establishment of legal status be interfered with through dubious conditionality criteria.

  • Freedom of expression (Articles, 18 and 19 UDHR)

    Individuals and groups are not neutral, they engage with sustainability and development coming from a wide range of political perspectives and representing the diversity of a population. Further individuals and groups have a wide diversity of capabilities. Where they chose to engage and do so in collaboration or side by side with governmental or intergovernmental bodies their freedom of expression must be safeguarded, as it is the diversity and circulation of ideas that ensures not only development through innovation and collaboration, but also peace by ensuring space for diversity of voices and perspectives.

  • Freedom of assembly (Article 20 UDHR)

    Just as ensuring Freedom of Expression is crucial, it is also imperative that individuals and groups are free to meet and exchange ideas and plans without interference. Further, in examining the success of implementation evidence needs to be clear that all contributions to sustainable development that are routed through governmental or international governmental bodies are inclusive. That is to say care needs to be taken that local and non-migrant communities are not only considered but actively included.

  • Freedom of movement (Articles 13, 14 and 15 UDHR)

    The Objective could have been formulated clearer with regard to the importance of enabling all migrants and members of diaspora groups who do not have access to, or hold dual, citizenship to act and move based on a legitimate and secure legal status. Migrants and diasporas should have the freedom to circulate, but at the very least should not be hindered to leave and return to the places of importance to that person or group. Point to which migrants and diasporas move will be multiple rather than two linear points on a map, modalities – if this Objective is to be meaningful – need to facilitate this mobility flexibly.

3. Rights

  • Right to education (Articles, 13 and 14 ICESCR)

    Gaining and sharing skills is more broadly important for the sustainable development as intended by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For the purposes of this Objective, making sure that individuals improve their skills beyond basic education is a precondition to contributing to development as those individuals will be empowered to have a broader range of capabilities to drawn on and share. This includes, more practically for example providing for apprenticeship places that are financially sustainable and lead to employment that has a future.

  • Right to work (Article 6 ICESCR; International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; Article 1(2) ILO Convention No. 122; ILO Equal Remuneration Convention (No.100); ILO Discrimination Convention (No. 111))

    Only when a person’s skills are honoured and they can be used and developed can sustainability unfold, in all of the places of residence and relationships that a person holds. It is thus, imperative if conditions for contribution to sustainable development are to be created and facilitated that conditions be ensured for a person to be able to work and work in safety.


This Objective, alike to Objective 23, requires open-minded cooperation between governments to actually ‘facilitate flexible modalities’ and achieve the necessary circulation of people and with that goods and ideas to ensure sustainable development. Objective 19 is successful if partnership can be shown to be facilitated, rather than relationships marked by problematic assumptions about who might and might not engage in sustainable development and is happy and capable of contributing. Institutions that provide oversight, monitoring and a robust complaints procedure are important for indicating that Objective 19 is implemented with good faith. The real test for governments is how willing they are to implement freedom of movement in a non-discriminatory way.

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.