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Don Zeeman

‘Safe, orderly and regular’

What are the implications of the Global Compact on Migration? An analysis from a Christian perspective.

FEATURES AUTOR 208/Don_Zeeman GENEVA 21 DE ENERO DE 2019 08:46 h
Photo: UNHCR, Global Trends report.

A lot has been said about the Global Compact on Migration.

Some countries warmly welcome the document, other States heavily oppose the text. Some people consider the compact as an important step to a more human approach towards refugees, others see it as a threat for Western civilisation.

But what does the text really say and how can we approach it from a Christian point of view?

The refugee crisis, which reached its peak in 2015, raised many concerns in Europe. The impression to be flooded by an endless stream of people looking for a better life, gave many people an uncomfortable feeling, even when politicians like the German Chancellor insisted that her country would be able to handle the crisis.

The perception that our civilisation was shaking seemed to indicate that our society was not ready to cope with the pression.

This impression, combined with several criminal incidents (like the sexual assaults at New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne) and the attacks in e.g. Paris and Brussels, performed by terrorists who probably entered Europe with the stream of the refugees, gave many Europeans the feeling their lives were at danger.

Yet, we have to realize that most migration is taking place outside our continent. There are several regions in the world, where the pression of migration is considerably larger than in our continent.



The refugee crisis was a motivation for the United Nations to reflect on the phenomenon ‘migration’ in general. The enormous chaos visible in some European countries – remember the images of the refugees trying to make their way to Western Europe through the Balkan and Hungary, or the sad destiny of the boat refugees on the Mediterranean – raised the question for strong regulations.

In 2016 the United Nations started discussions about a compact concerning refugees and immigrants, hoping to get some directions to settle the question legally. These talks finally resulted in the ‘Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration’, also called the ‘Marrakech-compact’.

The document is – as most UN-documents are – based on the good relationships between the nations – which is often more theory than practice. The compact emphasizes the importance of mutual trust, determination and solidarity of States.

The United Nations do not consider the migration in the world as negative (in line with the political view of ‘open borders’). This point of view is certainly not shared by political parties and authorities insisting on safe borders and the protection of their own culture.

The text of the compact states that ‘migration works for all when it takes place in a well-informed, planned and consensual manner. Migration should never be an act of desperation. When it is, we must cooperate to respond to the needs of migrants in situations of vulnerability, and address the respective challenges’. Not all UN-members support this approach.



Migration is not a new phenomenon; we encounter migration in the earliest history, in various ways. The Bible also shows some cases: Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and were forced to start a living elsewhere.

Cain had to flee after killing his brother. Abraham received Gods assignment to leave his country and family and was directed by Him to the promised land. From there he travelled to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan.

In different occasions the book of Genesis mentions the fact that Abraham lived as a stranger. His grandson Jacob went together with his whole family to Egypt, and, thanks to his son Joseph, the offspring of Abraham escaped from starvation.

Several ages later we see a massive migration in antiquity: God's people liberated from slavery in Egypt and heading for the promised land. One generation later the Israelites re-enter Canaan, an event that hardly can be considered to have been orderly and regularly…

These are just a few examples to show that migrations were not exceptional. Neither were they always positive – in many cases there were severe hostilities. People were taken away from their homeland after losing a war, as is shown by the Babylonian exile of the people of Israel. So, migration is not new, neither is the reaction towards migration.



The compact lists 23 objectives in order to reach a worldwide migration that is safe, orderly and regular. Most of these objectives are logic and praiseworthy. Whether they are achievable, is an other question, but it is the overall aim of the compact to handle the refugee question in the best possible way.

In the first place, the compact is destined to reduce the need for migration, or, in the words of the compact: ‘to minimize the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin’.

Of course, this is not always possible: natural disasters making life impossible in different locations, can not be prevented. On the other hand, it is possible to fight poverty – an important reason for people to migrate. This is also a responsibility of the Western world. Development aid is insufficient in many cases.

If wealthy countries would be willing to help the underdeveloped countries in such a way that the economy in these regions become more healthy, the need to look for a better future elsewhere can be reduced, at least.

It is hard but not impossible to prevent or end wars – conflicts are also an important motivation for people to leave their homes.

One of the objectives of the compact is to provide accurate information to the immigrants – they have to be informed about the consesquences of their decisions. Too often migrants are convinced that Western world offers a heavenly future.

For people considering their own situation of poverty and violence as some kind hell, the perspective of migrating to the West is very attractive but not realistic.

Many objectives ate related to the way in which migration takes place. There is a strong relationship between migration and criminality. Since legal migration to the Western countries is more and more restricted, there is a growing stream of illegal migration.

Human traffickers benefit of this situation, making a lot of money thanks to the desperate attempts of hopeless people. Unimaginable high amounts are asked and paid to cross the Mediterranean.

Once the payment is done, the destiny of the refugees is uncertain and too often they are struck by fate. This situation inspired the initiators of the compact to find ways to control the migration stream, and to find pathways for regular migration.

It is also their goal to fight the traffickers who take advantage of the miserable conditions of the refugees.



If the compact contains many noble objectives, why is it criticized? Why are some countries and governments considering the regulations as a serious threat?

In the first place there are several objectives which require a change of attitude in the ‘recieving countries’. It is one thing to state that regular migration is needed, it is an other thing to cope with the growing stream of refugees eventually caused by the compact.

The compact is consequent: if people seek refuge, they have to be accepted, even if they can not prove their nationality (‘to ensure that migrants without proof of nationality or legal identity are not included from accessing basic services nor denied their human rights’).

The compact wants authorities ‘to empower migrants and societies to realize full inclusion and social cohesion’. The compact wants governments to ‘invest in skills development and facilitate mutual recognition of skills, qualifications and competences’.

There is also the emphasis on cheaper transfer of remittances by ‘reducing the transaction costs of migrant remittances to less that 3 per cent’. In this way family members in the countries of origin will be able to benefit from the migration of their relatives.

Ironically these kinds of transfers are almost forbidden in Morocco (the country Marrakech belongs to …). The compact asks that social benefits gained in other countries will be preserved.

These suggested measures are contested because of the fear it will imply a disadvantage for the economy of the receiving countries.

In the second place there is a problem with the text at the end of the compact where a practical roadmap is given to implement the objectives.

The signators of the compact declare to commit themselves ‘to fulfill the objectives and commitments outlined in the Global Compact, in line with our vision and guiding principles, by taking effective steps at all levels to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration at all stages. We will implement the Global Compact, within our own countries and at the regional and gloal levels (…) We reaffirm our commitment to international law and emphasize that the Global Compact is to be implemented in a manner that is consistent with our rights and obligations under international law’ (…) We will implement the Global Compact thorugh enhanced bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation and a revitalized global partnership in a spirit of solidarity’.

The declaration lists a series of intentions to prevent the compact to remain only theoretical.

In the third place there is the largest stumbling stone for the opponents of the compact: the fear that it will restrict the souvereignty of the states.

The text tackles this fear in an extensive manner: ‘The Global Compact presents a non-legally binding, cooperative framework that builds on the commitments agreed upon by Member States in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

It fosters international cooperation among all relevant actors on migrations, acknowledging that no State can address migration alone, and upholds trhe sovereignty of States and their obligations under international law’.

The text on the implementation of the Compact explicitely states: ‘taking into account different national realities, capacities, and levels of development, and respecting national policies and priorities’.

It is clear there are several stipulations in the Compact which guarantee the absence of legal consequences for the States, although the principles might be applied by case law. The main question here might be: are countries afraid of the Global Compact or of migration as such?



The migration compact shows intentions, but also raises questions, even for Christians. How do we consider immigration: positive, negative, neutral? Is it our wish to open our borders for everyone who wants to enter the country, or do we prefer to protect our own interests and lock the door?

How do we apply the Biblical verses speaking about strangers? Are people with a different culture a threat or an enrichment for our society? Is the fact the refugees are often followers of an other religion than ours a danger for our own conviction and position?

Does the refugee crisis offer an unique opportunity the share the gospel with them? Enough questions and reasons for a follow-up article.

Don Zeeman is Secretary General of the Evangelical Alliance Flanders (EAV), in Belgium.




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