Government won't commit to pulling out of controversial UN migration agreement

New Zealand's position on a controversial United Nations agreement is up in the air, despite several countries pulling out and its adoption ceremony being less than two weeks away.

If adopted, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration would be the first "inter-governmentally negotiated agreement prepared under the auspices of the United Nations" that deals with all aspects of international migration.

The agreement, which the Green Party is praising, creates non-legally binding conditions for countries to "enable all migrants to enrich our societies through their human, economic and social capacities," according to the UN.

Its adoption ceremony is expected to take place on December 10-11 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Although that ceremony is less than two weeks away, whether New Zealand will support the pact is unknown, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) telling Newshub on Tuesday the Government is currently considering its position and will make a final decision before the adoption ceremony.

"The Global Compact on Migration is the outcome of negotiations between 193 member states, and it allows states to apply it in a manner consistent with their own priorities and capacity," said a Ministry spokesperson.

But the Coalition Government's confidence and supply partners, the Greens, are very clear they believe the Compact is of utmost importance to the international community.

"It is paramount that New Zealand, a responsible international citizen, be part of the cooperative solutions initiated by the Compact," Green Foreign Affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman told Newshub.

Ms Ghahraman said the Compact both recognises the individual sovereignty of each nation, as well as the "vulnerabilities of migrants and the need to protect their human rights at all stages of the migration process".

"The alternative is the violent and shameful approach displayed right now by the US, and enabled by the Mexican governments to the 'migrant caravan' seeking asylum."

National, on the other hand, is concerned by the Compact, saying policies around migration are the "sole competence of the country concerned".

National's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Todd McClay told Newshub he would be concerned "by any move that gives the UN more authority or influence over our domestic refugee and migration settings".

"Whilst well intentioned, the UN Migration Compact is likely to have unintended consequences for New Zealand," said Mr McClay.

Since a final draft agreement of the Compact was completed in July, several countries, including Australia, have pulled their support.

Last week Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there were concerns the Compact may be used to "undermine Australia's strong border protection laws and practises".

"The Compact fails to adequately distinguish between people who enter Australia illegally and those who come to Australia the right way, particularly with respect to the provision of welfare and other benefits," said Mr Morrison.

The United States pulled out at the end of 2017, when then-US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said migration was an issue for domestic policy.

"We simply cannot in good faith support a process that could undermine the sovereign right of the United States to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders".

Mr McClay said the government needs to consider the objections of those countries before deciding whether to sign up.

MFAT said Australia could do as it pleases and the New Zealand Government's decision was dependent upon the country's own interests.

Other countries to reject the agreement include Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Israel, and Slovakia.

Development towards the compact

The decision to develop a compact was first made by UN Member States, including New Zealand, in September 2016. The process towards it began in April 2017, stewarded by representatives from Mexico and Switzerland.

After months of negotiations, the July 2018 final draft of the agreement was celebrated by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called it a "significant achievement".

Mr Guterres said cross-border migration required effective management and international cooperation to enhance its "positive impact for all".

The 23 objectives in the draft agreement include to:

  • Collect and utilise accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies
  • Ensure that all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation
  • Enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration
  • Save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants
  • Provide access to basic services for migrants
  • Empower migrants and societies to realise full inclusion and social cohesion

In response to several countries pulling their support, current General Assembly President Maria Espinosa said it was important to respect the sovereign rights of countries.

"We fully understand the decision of some countries that have decided they are not ready to commit, and it's perhaps because they are taking the issue of migration very seriously, and they need to have greater discussions and conversations domestically," she said.

Since 2000, the number of migrants, which the UN defines as anyone who changes their country of residence, has dramatically increased from 173 million to 258 million in 2018. It is believed 50 million are children.

A similar compact focussed on refugees is also in development.