UN member states have released the final draft of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). This comes after the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was created in 2016. The new Global Compact focuses on migrants and aims to address migration issues in a “safe, orderly and regular” manner.
The main points of the GCM include ensuring the same human rights and freedoms for migrants; reducing risks and vulnerabilities faced by migrants; and the use of migration detention as a “last resort”.
States have asserted their stance on the draft compact, with the US first to pull out, followed by Hungary last week. Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has stated that Australia will not be signing the GCM in “its current form”.
“We’re not going to surrender our sovereignty. I’m not going to allow unelected bodies to dictate to us, to the Australian people,” he said. “We’re not going to sign any document that’s not in our national interest and it’s not in our national interest to sign our border protection policy over to the UN.”
However, he stated Australia would be “happy to negotiate in good faith” and continued to emphasise that there would not be signing of a document “that’s not in our national interest”.
Australia’s primary concern with the GCM are the provisions in relation to migration detention, as the GCM states that migration detention should only be used as a “last resort”. Further reading finds Australia’s policies relating to migration detention in violation of multiple GCM checks on migration detention.
There has been criticism of Australia’s handling of asylum seekers and refugees over the years especially in relation to offshore detention. Australia’s human rights record has been compared with the likes of Saudi Arabia and North Korea. In 2016, the Human Rights Watch’s World Report stated that Australia had an “abusive” approach to asylum seekers.
There was an 108-page legal submission from the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and the Stanford International Human Rights clinic which was submitted to the International Criminal Court in early 2017. This submission sought to bring forward what was happening in the detention centres, with the detention regime possibly constituting a crime against humanity.
It was also revealed that under under 162,420 people had permanently migrated to Australia in the last financial year, which is an approximately 20,000 drop from 183,608 last year. This came after Dutton opposed Scott Morrison’s claim that lower immigration levels would cost the budget, and instead, the migrant cut would be positive for the economy.
The migration discussion in Australia has been going all sorts of ways: some people argue more migrants will take jobs from ‘actual’ Australians, more migrants will mean overcrowding, more migrants will mean more crime… and the list goes on.
Charmain Mohamed, Amnesty International’s head of refugee and migrant rights said a “human-rights based, compassionate response to refugees’ needs based on global responsibility sharing” is what’s needed now.
Maybe instead of maintaining a hardline approach, Australia should look to the GCM as a set of guidelines that will ensure a humane approach towards migrants, rather than a document which will compromise its sovereignty. There needs to be cooperation globally to ensure a more effective response to migration and make human rights a priority.