Hungary’s right-wing government last Wednesday announced it will withdraw from a United Nations pact on migration, before its final approval, reported Al Jazeera. The agreement, The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration was completed on Friday, July 13, following 18 months of negotiation by all 193 UN member states bar the United States, who abruptly withdrew last year. Following in the footsteps of the United States, Hungary has refused to sign the final document in December last year, with nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban stating, “this pact poses a threat to the world from the aspect that it could inspire millions [of migrants].” The treaty aims to provide a worldwide framework for managing what is currently a muddled system, amidst the large numbers of regular and irregular migrants.
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has contended that “this document is entirely against Hungary’s security interests,” a view that has long been expressed and is evident in Hungary’s tough stance against the admission of migrants, positioning it at odds with the European Union. Szijjarto added, “its main premise is that migration is a good and inevitable phenomenon…we consider migration a bad process, which has extremely serious security implications.” Meanwhile, António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, has heralded the action, citing its “immense potential to help the world harness the benefits of regular migration while safeguarding against the dangers of irregular movements that place people at risk.”
Despite Hungary refusing to characterize migration as an inevitable phenomenon, it is an undeniable reality and one which requires a unified response, given the global nature of the issue. As expressed by Louise Abour, a longstanding UN diplomat and Canada’s special representative for international migration, “it’s not helpful to ask whether migration is a good or a bad thing,” adding “it’s a thing, it’s happening, it’s always happened. It always will happen.” Importantly, and contentiously, one of the 23 objectives in the agreement stresses the need for nations to work towards the safe return and readmission of migrants, where and when it is deemed safe for them to do so. Correspondingly, it prohibits the collective expulsion of migrants who’s return might see them face risk of death, torture and other inhumane treatment.
Hungary’s decision is not unexpected, as its right-wing nationalist government has consistently been one of the European Union’s strongest critics regarding its migration policy. At the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, Hungary fenced off its southern borders and campaigned for tougher migration deterrent measures. Additionally, last Wednesday it approved laws which criminalize giving aid and assistance to undocumented migrants. Since 2000, over 60,000 people have died while migrating internationally, in their journeys across dangerous seas and whilst being detained in detention facilities or other circumstances, according to the United Nations. It is hoped that this international framework may be of some assistance to coordinating a response to address safety concerns, including the issue of human trafficking.
While the issue of migration is highly political, often generating mistrust between countries and evoking a rhetoric largely centred around security concerns, this agreement fosters a recognition of humanity that is crucial amidst such discourse. It marks the first-time international standards on migration have been laid out, whilst still enabling national governments to devise their own policies on migration within a human rights centred framework. While Hungary and the U.S. have signalled their departure from the agreement, they should be continually encouraged to re-join as the ability to assist individuals in a unified, consistent, and equal manner requires the cooperation of all. Nevertheless, despite the absence of the U.S. and Hungary, the unprecedented move marks a strong and necessary response and should be heralded as a positive step forward.
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