WHAT IS A COMPACT? Migrants’ Rights and State Responsibilities Regarding the Design of the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration

New Working Paper Explores Still-In-Process Global Agreement on Migration


In September of 2016, in response to the large movements of refugees and migrants around the world, the UN General Assembly held its first ever summit dedicated to this topic.

The outcome was the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which not only reaffirms the importance of existing legal instruments to protect refugees and migrants, but also foresees two new global Compacts; one on refugees, and one of safe, orderly and regular migration. Both compacts are scheduled to be adopted by the General Assembly in the summer of 2018.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is responsible for the negotiation of the Compact on Refugees. The Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is primarily in the hands of the UN Special Representative for International Migration, assisted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which became a UN related organisation in July of 2016.

While both these organisations have expressed much enthusiasm for the prospects of these new agreements in responding to the current challenges surrounding migration and refugee protection, the final content and resultant impact of each compact are as of yet uncertain. More fundamentally, there is little clarity on exactly what kind of international agreement a compact is, and where it sits in relation to existing instruments of international law and international relations.

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute has released a new working paper, “What is a Compact?: Migrants’ Rights and State Responsibilities Regarding the Design of the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration“, that explores the still-in-process global agreement on migration.

The working paper is authored by Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, Research Director at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Elspeth Guild, Jean Monnet Professor ad personam at Queen Mary, University of London, Violeta Moreno-Lax, a Senior Lecturer in Law and co-founder of the Centre for European and International Legal Affairs at Queen Mary University of London, Marion Panizzon, a Senior Researcher and Private-Docent at the Instiute of Public Law of the University of Bern; and Isobel Roele, Deputy Director of the Centre for Law and Scoiety in a Global Context at Queen Mary University of London.

The authors look at this instrument as a form of soft law, examine how similar agreements have been made with essentially the same kind of framing, and understand how this particular agreement can push human rights to the forefront.

“It’s a very hot issue that world leaders are still wrestling with in order to reach some kind of agreement that needs to be done by summer of 2018,” says Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, Head of Research at RWI, and one of the authors of the paper. “What we try and do in this particular paper is to say well irregardless of how far states are willing to go on the different and very tricky political-speaking issues under negotiation — from border control to mobility to legal migration, visa schemes — we need to have a grasp for what this new agreement will mean for the current governance of international cooperation.”

Read the working paper here.