On the importance of the UN Migration Pact and the UN Refugee Pact

On invitation of nine Austrian organizations dealing with questions of migration, refugees and asylum (among them the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Caritas, Diakonie, AG Globale Verantwortung and the Informationsgruppe Latin America), a prominently filled panel discussed about the two negotiated UN pacts which will be decided upon in the months ahead. The main goal of this public event on November 28th, 2018, in Vienna was to give basic information on the UN Pacts on Migration and on Refugees, because there is little real knowledge in Austria about the content and the intentions of these treaties, but a lot of myths and misinformation in the political debate on the recent decision of the Austrian government to not sign the Migration Pact.

C. Pinter, U. Brandl, B. Schneider, A. Reyhani, T. Reininger (IFOR, moderator) and L. Gabriel

In the discussion

Mr. Adel-Naim Reyhani
(Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights)

presented some basic facts and numbers on the situation of migrants and refugees globally and the history of the two pacts which started in September 2016 with the New York Declaration of the UN General Assembly, addressing the question of large movements of refugees and migrants and how to deal with it in an international context. He also mentioned the coincidence in time between the so-called “refugee crisis” reaching Europe and the start of this UN process, wondering if there might have been a direct connex.

Mr. Bernhard Schneider
(Department of law and migration at the Austrian Red Cross)

spoke on the Migration Pact and its focus on people, not states, building upon international human rights law and sustainable development (Agenda 2030). He stressed that until now there are no regulations or treaties on migration in international law, and that this pact tries to meet the need of the international community for better handling the phenomenon of migration as well as for providing a positive view on migration and its chances.

Mr. Christoph Pinter
(UNHCR Austria)

described the role of UNHCR in the creation and formulation of the Refugee Pact, stressing the difference to the Migration Pact that there already exists strong legislation on refugee issues, above all the Geneva Convention on Refugees from 1951. Building upon this basis the Refugee Pact has a strong focus on improving the situation for refugees themselves (protection, autonomy and return) as well as for those countries which carry the main burdens of accepting and hosting refugees in their territories (85% of refugees worldwide are living in countries with low or medium income).

Ms. Ulrike Brandl
(Institute for International Law at the University of Salzburg)

spoke about legal aspects of the two documents and the EU positions in regard to them. She stated that a clear distinction between ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ often is impossible, which is also expressed in the New York Declaration. In regard to a common EU asylum system there already exist several regulations (mainly Dublin 3), but the trend in the last few years mainly goes into the direction of protection of external borders (FRONTEX, reception centers outside EU borders) instead of cooperation and solutions for integration and resettlement. Several EU member states have recently declared that they will not sign the Migration Pact.


Mr. Leo Gabriel
(journalist and anthropologist, World Social Forum)

talked about his recent experiences from the WSF on Migrations (October 2018 in Mexico) and the migration caravan from Honduras towards the U.S. He presented a short documentary movie on the caravan titled “Christian Aid for Refugees” and stressed that requests from migrants organizing themselves go far beyond the text of the two pacts: “No human being is illegal”, no division of migrants and refugees, freedom of mobility and right to work everywhere, etc.

In the Q&A session with the audience it was stated that in discussions about migration issues it is necessary to speak to emotions as well as to present facts and information in order to diminish fear and populist argumentation. Unfortunately, in the political discourse and action nowadays it seems more appropriate for many governments, including the Austrian, to restrict or circumvent even already existing legal standards, instead of looking for ways to find viable solutions for all on an international and national level.


UN Migration Pact: https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/sites/default/files/180713_agreed_outcome_global_compact_for_migration.pdf (English), http://www.un.org/depts/german/migration/A.CONF.231.3.pdf (Deutsch)

UN Refugee Pact: https://www.unhcr.org/5b3295167 (English), https://www.unhcr.org/dach/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2018/11/GCR_final_GER.pdf (Deutsch)