Global Compact: Ensuring Safety and Dignity For Migrants
18 December 2018 at 4:35 pm
In celebration of International Migrants Day on 18 December, Vicki Mau, the national manager of migration support programs at Australian Red Cross, discusses the importance of supporting vulnerable migrants through the Global Compact agreement.
Over recent weeks, together with colleagues from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, I have been taking part in meetings that have culminated with governments from around the world adopting a non-binding Global Compact on migration.
While Australia is one of a handful of countries – including Hungary and Poland – who have decided not to sign up, the vast majority of countries have adopted the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This agreement will save lives and respond to the needs and vulnerabilities of migrants.
More people than ever before are on the move, even though migration is as old as human society. Migration is an increasingly complex issue with many push and pull factors.
Countries encourage migration to meet labour or skills shortages or to increase their economic output. People are also often forced to migrate as a result of conflict and persecution, climate related displacement and deeply entrenched poverty.
We must remember that people who migrate are often exposed to great risks and immense suffering during their migration journey and in the countries where they end up. Recent research shows that at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children face difficulties alone and unsafe on their journeys. Most concerning is that many of these children experience separations from their families and loved ones, abuse, exploitation or even disappearance and death.
There are no simple solutions for these serious humanitarian issues. No single country can have all of the answers.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is a unique opportunity for countries to increase collaboration and partnerships at all points of migration. As the co-chair, with Maldivian Red Crescent, of the Red Cross Red Crescent Asia Pacific Migration Network, we reiterate our commitment to working together, collaboratively, to ensure the safety and dignity of all vulnerable migrants across our region.
Amongst other commitments, the Global Compact ensures that migrants have access to the basic humanitarian services they need to survive.
We know from our experience in Australia and across the world that migrants often face legal and other barriers to access essential support, including challenges with language and lack of awareness of services.
In addition, many migrants are too afraid to seek help because they are fearful. They face coercion, threats and physical or sexual violence. Others struggle with debt incurred from traffickers or exploitative employers, or fear of arrest or detention.
Globally, we need more safe humanitarian service points where migrants – irrespective of their status – have access to a variety of essential services without fear of reprisal. It is a solution that we are working on with governments hand in hand with Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the world.
The Global Compact also supports countries to prioritise the safety and dignity for the most vulnerable, such as victims of trafficking and severe exploitation, children separated from their parents and people who are outside formal refugee protection.
As the world shifts around us and adapts to the increasing movement of people, countries have to consider that global and regional future stability as well as security depends to a large extent on how we respond to the needs of host communities and vulnerable migrants.
Importantly for our region, the Global Compact provides opportunities to minimise and respond to adverse drivers which compel people to leave their country of origin, due to slow and sudden natural disasters, climate change and environmental degradation.
The Global Compact provides us with a unique opportunity for increased local, national, regional and global cooperation in responding to these challenges and recognizes that countries cannot effectively act in isolation.
Behind the images we see, and stories we hear about migrants, often in desperate situations, are fellow human beings. They are mothers, fathers, children, brothers and sisters who been forced to leave behind their possessions, families and livelihoods. We need to understand their stories, and remind ourselves that our common humanity is not guided by what separates us, but rather what unites us.
Domestically, Australians are already engaged in many of the good initiatives and commitments envisaged by the Global Compact and it is especially heartening to see that local responses are alive and well.
In cities across the country, local communities and agencies are providing essential support to people seeking asylum. School communities are going above and beyond providing support to migrant children and their families, making them feel welcome.
In regional areas, communities are inviting new migrants into their towns, including those here temporarily, as a way to build more sustainable communities. Local governments, religious organisations and communities in all their diversities are welcoming new neighbours, and supporting the most vulnerable.
Despite occasional heated public debates and fearful discussions about migration, this year’s Scanlon Report on Social Cohesion shows the vast majority of Australians continue to view their country as an immigration nation. Most of us believe that immigration benefits the country and that it will continue to play an important role in the years ahead.
The Global Compact presents a unique opportunity to ensure migration can continue to benefit everyone. Most importantly, it will improve the protection of vulnerable migrants through strong collaboration and partnerships with other countries, civil society, communities and migrants themselves.
Once people feel safe and supported, once they have the humanitarian protection and assistance they need, this can help to stabilise their physical and mental health, and increase their resilience.
We must do more to prevent loss of life and of dignity for migrants. There cannot be discrimination against migrants for access to humanitarian protection and assistance. This is the core mandate of Red Cross. With increasing numbers on the move, more people falling through the gaps, and escalating criminalisation of migration matters, the Global Compact will be important for years to come.
About the author: Vicki Mau is national manager of migrant support programs at Australian Red Cross.