The U.N. General Assembly on Monday adopted by a wide majority a Global Compact on Refugees aimed at improving efforts to manage large refugee movements—but without the support of the United States and Hungary.
The refugee pact, which did not provoke the controversy unleashed over a similar pact on migration, was approved by 181 countries. Only two voted no—the U.S. and Hungary. Three others abstained—the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya. Much like the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the refugee pact is not legally binding.
The two global agreements stem from the so-called New York Declaration adopted unanimously by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2016, with the goal of better handling migrant and refugee flows worldwide.
The compact—written under the auspices of the Geneva-based U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR)—hopes to ensure an adequate international response to large-scale refugee movements and extended displacement of refugees.
General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa said the pact would help “strengthen the assistance to and protection of the 25 million refugees globally” and was based on burden—and responsibility-sharing. “Refugee-hosting countries continue to show extraordinary levels of generosity and commitment to refugee protection,” said Espinosa, who is from Ecuador. “It’s a known fact that low and middle-income countries host over 85 percent of all refugees. I believe that we must support the communities and states that host refugees.”
In voting no, Hungary said no new agreement was needed. The U.S. said recently that it backed most of the refugee pact, but not the part aimed at limiting detentions of asylum seekers.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, two countries facing massive population flight addressed the assembly. Syria said the debate should not be politicized and asked the UNHCR to do more to help Syrian refugees return to their war-wracked country. Crisis-hit Venezuela, which has seen massive flight as its economic quagmire has deepened, urged the assembly to ensure that the new pact did not become a way for other countries to intervene in internal matters.
The document has four key objectives: ease pressure on refugee-hosting nations; improve refugee self-reliance; expand access to third countries for refugees via resettlement; and, support conditions for refugees to go home.
The compact is meant to set up a framework; national and regional solutions are supported, and it discusses financing and possible partnerships, as well as data sharing among nations. It also includes systems to monitor progress, including a Global Refugee Forum held at ministerial level every four years.
Unlike the talks on the migration pact, the United States remained in the negotiations for the refugee pact. The final text of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Legal Migration was agreed on in July, and it is to be formally ratified by the General Assembly on Wednesday.
Since July, a number of countries have either quit the pact or expressed serious reservations, including Hungary, Australia, Israel, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Latvia and Italy. In Belgium, the migration pact sparked the collapse of the country’s coalition government.
About 165 countries reaffirmed their commitment to the migration pact earlier this month in Morocco.