Blog post by Dr James C. Simeon (York University) and Professor Elspeth Guild (Queen Mary University of London)

Throughout human history migration has been one of its most characteristic features, whether by necessity or by choice. Those groups of humans who had to move elsewhere did so, due to being forced off their traditional lands by others who were much stronger than them, because of the depletion of their resources including their water and food supplies, the climatic changes that no longer supported human habitation in the area, fleeing plagues and widespread illnesses, and the like. Other groups of humans chose to migrate to seek new and/or more beneficial opportunities elsewhere, out of sheer curiosity and/or to seek adventure, or to start a new and/or neighboring community to help ensure the security and sustainability of their community and/or common communities. Whether voluntary or involuntary or through regular or irregular means, people have been on the move since time immemorial.

Unsurprisingly, then, migration continues to be a critical feature of the modern world. According to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM’s) World Migration Report 2022, there were an estimated 281 million migrants in 2020 or about 3.6 percent of the world’s population. Thirty years earlier, in 1990, there was only an estimated 153 million migrants or about 2.87 percent of the world’s population. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there will be 117.2 million people who will be forcibly displaced or stateless by the end of 2023. This UNHCR estimate breaks down as follows: 29.3 million refugees; 5.6 million asylum seekers; 61.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs); 5.6 million other people in need of international protection; 5.1 million stateless persons; 4.4 million others of concern; and 4.7 million returned IDPs. All of these forcibly displaced and stateless persons fall under the UNHCR’s mandate. 

It is important to note that most of the world’s forcibly displaced persons are the consequence of protracted armed conflict or war. This is perhaps most evident with the Russia-Ukraine War with some 5.7 million Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers and 5.9 million Internally Displaced Persons, Ukrainians. This has been the fastest growing displacement crisis since the end of the Second World War. But, most importantly, this is merely one of the 32 armed conflicts that are taking place in the world today. And, if you consider where the refugees are coming from in the world today you will find that the major source countries are: Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela.  These are the countries that have been wracked by protracted armed conflict and war for years and some for decades.[1] Those who have been fortunate enough to escape the horrors of war or protracted armed conflict, extreme organized political violence, have sought refuge not only within their own countries, IDPs, but, abroad, refugees.

This was most evident in 2015 when millions of asylum seekers came to Europe seeking refuge. The response of the European Union and its member States to this mass influx of millions of refugees and other forced migrants was less than stellar.[2] It left many questioning the fundamental soundness of the international refugee protection regime and led to calls for addressing the flaws at the root of the asylum system. What emerged eventually was the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The declaration reaffirms the importance of the international refugee protection regime and incorporates a wide range of commitments by States to strengthen and enhance mechanisms to protect people who are on the move. It also includes a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) that is to be applied for large-scale refugee movements and protracted refugee situations. The CRRF has been applied formally in several countries and within two regions, Africa, and Central America. In addition, the declaration called for two Global Compacts: the first to be proposed by the UNHCR for refugees; and the second on safe, orderly, and regular migration.

The Global Compact on Refugees builds on the CRRF and aims to provide a more equitable and predictable sharing of the burden and responsibility for protecting refugees. While the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration seeks to enhance collaboration on international migration and to provide a framework for international cooperation on migration and human mobility. This Global Compact is the first inter-governmental negotiated agreement, that has been prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, that covers all the dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.

The salience of both Global Compacts for migration and human rights are obvious given the inherent and fundamental right to a freedom of movement. This is embodied in the essential international human rights instruments such as the International Bill of Rights’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at Article 13, and its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, at Article 12, as well as in many regional and national constitutions.[3] Indeed, the Global Compact on Migration states at paragraph 15(f) as follows:

Human rights. The Global Compact is based on international human rights law and upholds the principles of non-regression and non-discrimination. By implementing the Global Compact, we ensure effective respect for and protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status, across all stages of the migration cycle. We also reaffirm the commitment to eliminate all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance, against migrants and their families;

In addition, the Global Compact on Migration sets out 23 objectives that seek to achieve safe, orderly, and regular migration throughout the migration cycle. For each of these objectives the Global Compact has a statement of goals coupled with a series of actionable items that States should aspire to implement and, hopefully, achieve. They are a series of “best practices” that States ought to adopt and implement over time. Take objective number seven, “Address and reduce vulnerabilities in migration.”

23. We commit to respond to the needs of migrants who face situations of vulnerability, which may arise from the circumstances in which they travel or the conditions they face in countries of origin, transit and destination, by assisting them and protecting their human rights, in accordance with our obligations under international law. We further commit to uphold the best interests of the child at all times, as a primary consideration in situations where children are concerned, and to apply a gender-responsive approach in addressing vulnerabilities, including in responses to mixed movements.

And, with respect to actionable items under objective seven consider the following that is only one of twelve different action items:

(a) Review relevant policies and practices to ensure that they do not create, exacerbate or unintentionally increase vulnerabilities of migrants, including by applying a human rights-based, gender- and disability-responsive, as well as age- and child-sensitive approach;

In essence, the Global Compact on Migration is an aspirational instrument that provides a guide for States in passing legislation and other policy instruments to realize their 23 objectives in migration.

Likewise, the Global Compact on Refugees has four objectives: “(1) ease pressure on host states; (2) enhance refugee self-reliance; (3) expand access to third country solutions; (4) support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.” The manner in which these four interlinked and interdependent objectives will be achieved is through, “the mobilization of political will, a broadened base of support, and arrangements that facilitate more equitable, sustained, and predictable contributions among States and other relevant stakeholders.” Section III of the Global Compact on Refugees is a Programme of Action for how States can achieve these four objectives.

Since 2018, with the advent of the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees, that has ushered in a new unprecedented era with respect to the international protection of migrants and, especially, refugees, has the freedom of movement and human rights of those uprooted and on the move advanced to any appreciable degree? Indeed, how have the two Global Compacts furthered the fundamental human rights of refugees and migrants since their adoption some five years ago? At their core these two Global Compacts are intended to ensure a new international standard or standards are being applied by States for migrants and, especially, refugees. What have the two principal organs of the United Nations that are responsible for the implementation of these two Global Compacts — the IOM for migrants, and the UNHCR for refugees — been doing to realize the varying but inter-related and interdependent objectives of these Global Compacts? How have such soft law instrumentalities encouraged States to follow the detailed programs of action to advance the overall objectives of these two Global Compacts and by doing so address the current shortcomings and faults of the international refugee protection regime and the gaps in the way that States, individually and collectively, have managed and coped with the ever-escalating numbers of migrants and refugees in the world today and into the foreseeable future?

To this end, a MDPI “Topic” has been devised that is examining “Migration and Human Rights in the Age of the Global Compacts” that provides a venue and platform for researchers, advocates, practitioners, policy makers, students and instructors, and, of course, migrants and refugees, those with the lived experience of migration and refugeehood, to present their views, opinions, research, policy analysis and recommendations in one or more of a number of leading online academic journals. Our “Topic” is clustered around four major subthemes:

1. Has there been any advancement of protection of refugee and migrant rights since the adoption of these Global Compacts?

2. Has there been any variation in the application and implementation of these Global Compacts and what can be learned from the one or the other in the progressive development of the rights of refugees and/or migrants?

3. What lessons can be learned from how the UNHCR, and the IOM have managed these two Global Compacts?

4. What is the future of these two unprecedented Global Compacts on refugees and migrants?

Contributions that utilize novel approaches and methodologies on the “Topic” or any other areas that have a bearing on the main theme or any of the four subthemes are also welcomed. For those who may be interested, we should like to suggest that you may wish to view our recent webinar recording on our “Topic.” This will provide you with further details on our “Topic” and ideas on some issues and concerns that are relevant to our major theme and subthemes.

We look forward to receiving your contributions on this most important and ever more pressing Topic in the field of migration and, specifically, those who are forced to flee, refugees. Advancing the fundamental human rights to move freely within and across States and to be able to seek asylum from persecution requires both the individual efforts of States and the collective efforts of the international community of States. The Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees are an embodiment, or at the very least ought to be, of both the individual and collective efforts of all States.

[1] One notable example is Syria that has produced millions of refugees and the civil war in Syria has been ongoing since 2011. See Zachery Laub, “Syria’s Civil War: The Descent into Horror,” Council on Foreign Relations, February 14, 2023, (accessed October 27, 2023); USA for UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, “Syria Refugee Crisis Explained,” March 14, 2023, (accessed October 28, 2023); Venezuela is the exception here but no less troubled due to political and economic distress and turmoil. See Council on Foreign Relations, Backgrounder, “Venezuela: The Rise and Fall of a Petrostate,” (accessed October 28, 2023). Where it is noted that, “Since 2014, more than seven million Venezuelan refugees have fled to neighboring countries and beyond, where some governments have granted them temporary residency.”

[2] The EU did better when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, opening a generous temporary protection scheme for those fleeing. See, for example, Meltem Ineli Ciger, “Reasons for the Activation of the Temporary Protection Directive in 2022: A Tale of Double Standards,” Global Asylum Governance and the European Union’s Role, ASILE, Forums, October 6, 2022, (accessed October 30, 2023)

[3] For instance, the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 45, Freedom of movement and of residence,, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 6, Mobility Rights,, The Constitution of India 2022, Article 19(1)(d), (accessed October 28, 2023)

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