The Unfinished Work of the Global Compact on Refugees

T Alexander Aleinikoff

International Journal of Refugee Law, 2019


The author notes that the (non-binding) commitment in the Refugee Compact for additional funding does not come with conditions that host States guarantee refugee rights, and he argues that an emphasis on ‘national ownership’ of the refugee response may create problems if accountability structures for how States spend new refugee resources are not robust. The author argues that, despite the limited reach and scope of the Refugee Compact, it can create opportunities for forward movement on some of the unaddressed challenges facing the international protection regime, in particular:

  • The lack of a global responsibility sharing strategy and structure: A comprehensive responsibility-sharing strategy to address protracted refugee situations would not impose significant costs on any resettlement country (22 million refugees are less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population). While the compact does not tackle this head on, it creates new modalities for international cooperation including: (a) the Global Refugee Forum at which States can make pledges of assistance, additional resettlement numbers, and other ‘complementary pathways for admission’; and (b) ‘Support Platforms’ for specific large-scale or protracted refugee situations. The author argues that Support Platforms could have a meaningful impact if they go beyond traditional ‘solutions’ of repatriation, resettlement, and local integration, and experiment with new modalities such as enhanced regional mobility for refugees seeking to move to locations where they can best pursue self-sufficiency.
  • The need to protect forced migrants who do not come within the definition of ‘refugee’ in the 1951 Refugee Convention: While the compact’s language restricts the ‘need for international protection’ to persons already protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention and regional instruments (para 65), it also urges States to close protection gaps in a way consistent with, but not constricted by, existing international and regional norms (para 61) and, in doing so, it provides an opportunity for advocacy on behalf of all those in need of international protection. Forced migration linked to climate change ended up in the Migration Compact due to State pressure on UNHCR to keep the Refugee Compact limited to Convention refugees, and so the Refugee Compact and the Migration Compact will need to be read together to develop approaches for climate change-related migration. Sudden-onset disasters produce forced migrants for whom legal norms and institutions will need to be established. The absence of commitments regarding IDPs remains the most troubling gap in the Global Compacts.