Blog post by Professor Elspeth Guild, Queen Mary University of London, and Dr Tugba Basaran, University of Cambridge


The Marrakesh Compact (MC), adopted by the UN in 2018 after two years of stocktaking and negotiations, establishes a cooperative framework for achieving safe, orderly and regular migration across the world. The starting place of the MC was the UN New York Resolution calling for two compacts, one on migrants, the other on refugees to ensure the protection, rights and facilitation of international movement through state cooperation. Throughout the process of negotiating the MC, a group of academics across the world contributed regular blogs on developments, including analysis of each of the drafts, each of the 23 objectives and a final series on implementation. The objective of these blogs was to inform the academic and general public regarding the state of the development of the MC and to provide constructive comment on the directions.  


The MC had a turbulent passage through the UN as the right-wing populist and nationalist groupings in Europe commenced destabilising campaigns against it in the Autumn of 2018. Member States of the European Union formed the largest single group of states which voted against or abstained in the final vote. Yet, the EU institutions were very engaged in the negotiations and positive about the results. The MC is stated to be non-legally binding though it is politically binding. For a full review of the content of the MC please see our previous blogs and the growing academic literature on the subject. In this blog we explain the next steps of the MC and how it is being implemented by states.  


The International Migration Review Forum, the primary intergovernmental global platform for discussion, progress and review, is scheduled to take place every four years, starting in 2022 (Compact, para 49). In preparation therefore, the UN Network on Migration, institutionally supported by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in its capacity as the coordinator of the Network, has provided support for the organisation of the  regional meetings (Compact, para 50).  The first regional review forum for the UNECE region (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe includes 56 countries in Europe, North America, Caucasus, Central Asia and Western Asia) examined implementation in November 2020. All states were encouraged to prepare reports on their relevant activities and actions. This includes the organisation of regional meetings where states and stakeholders examine progress towards the objectives of the Compact. Fourteen states and many regional organisations (including the EU) and stakeholders have submitted reports on their actions. The detail and quality of the reports varies substantially and most states have chosen not to address all of the guiding principles nor all 23 objectives. 14 UN states have put themselves forward as ‘champions’ of the MC – two in the UNECE region – Canada and Portugal. One of the key issues which academic observers have highlighted is whether, in the process of implementation of the MC states take a wholistic approach seeking to achieve the objective of improving the application of internationally agreed human rights standards to migrants or whether they use provisions of the MC on detention and expulsion to justify continuing or intensifying coercion against migrants.  


Additionally, the UN Secretary General published his report to the General Assembly on the implementation of the MC and the activities of the UN system including the functioning of the institutional arrangements in October 2020. The Secretary General divided his report into two sections – first a review of implementation of the MC generally and secondly the impact of Covid-19 related measures, their negative impact on migrants and the use of the MC is alleviating the worst of the problems of migrant marginalisation. The report acknowledges that one of the difficulties of reporting on implementation is the lack of guidelines, targets or agreed terms on the basis of which evaluation of implementation will take place. This issue was addressed by the (former) Special Rapporteur on the rights of all migrant workers in his 2017 report (A/HRC/35/25) where he recommended that the MC needed to have short, medium and long term goals, with clear indicators of achievement, targets and deadlines. Only in this way would there be a level playing field as regards assessment of implementation. This did not happen and as the Secretary General notes in his report “there is no identifiable finish line” though he justifies this lack of transparency on the basis of the highly variable experience of migration of different countries around the world (para 9).  


The timing of the first session on implementation was critical – coming as it did while much of the UNECE region is deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic both in terms of infection and medical treatment and economic consequences of measures taken to counter it. In the preceding ten months (Covid-19 is generally considered to have become serious in the region from February 2020) the impact of state measures against the pandemic have had profound consequences for migrants mainly by making their situations more marginal and precarious. Notwithstanding the MC’s objective to ensure access for migrants irrespective of their immigration status to services, including health, the Secretary General’s report counts few positive examples during the pandemic. Indeed, the phenomenon of ‘stranded’ migrants has increased massively; this is the situation of mainly migrant workers who lose their employment but have no resources to return to their home state and are ‘stranded’ in their state of former employment. This has been an enormous problem in particular for women migrant workers in the domestic services sector.  


We are now launching a new series of blogs to examine how states have implemented the MC, two years after its adoption. We will include two kinds of blogs – first there will be blogs which examine the country reports which states have submitted for the regional reviews. Secondly, we will include thematic reports, such as on detention and expulsion or firewalls (to protect irregularly present migrants from the sharing of their personal data between service providers such as hospitals and immigration authorities for expulsion purposes). Many of the authors who contributed to the first series of blogs have agreed to follow up their work with new insights into the state of migration cooperation revealed in this new phase.  


We trust that the academic and policy communities will find these blogs useful in their work as we move towards the International Migration Review Forum, scheduled for 2022.    




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.