The UN and their fine words on migration

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, was in the spotlight on Monday, in sunny Marrakech.

Delegations had arrived from more than 150 countries to endorse a non-binding but highly symbolic text: the United Nations Global Compact on Migration. It aims to build co-operation among nations to organize “safe, orderly and regular migration”.

The idea was for the countries of migrant departure, transit countries and destination countries all to share the same set of principles. These are based on the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Certain objectives of the Covenant carry with them good humanistic qualities. Goal 17 states that states undertake “to eliminate all forms of discrimination and to condemn and combat expressions, manifestations and acts of racism, racial discrimination, violence and xenophobia against all migrants”.

There is also a half-dose of pragmatism. The pact calls for tackling the structural problems that push migrants to leave, as well as facilitating the return, readmission and reintegration of migrants back into their country of departure.

The UN did well to choose the city of Marrakech. The city is full of comfortable hotels, but, most importantly, it is close to the Sahara. This desert is once again a gold zone for all human traffickers.

In the past, the Sahara was a transit area for a slave trade organized by the Arabs and transported by the Tuaregs, Moors and Toubou. French colonisation, and its detachments of meharists, put an end to this traffic.

Today, the smugglers have become the kings of the Sahara again. For migrants, the price paid is high (3000 euros on average) and the risks significant: death by thirst or cold in the desert, reduction to temporary slavery in transit cities, drowning in the Mediterranean.

On the other hand, for the smugglers, the gains are high and the risks nil. While we have often seen smugglers killing their stowaways. We have never seen a smuggler being killed by the police from a country of departure, transit or destination. Smugglers are masters at corrupting local authorities. They are confident in the future of their business as demand is strong.

A 2016 Gallup survey showed that black Africa was the region of the world where the desire to emigrate was the strongest. Forty-two percent of young people aged 15 to 24 state that they wanted to leave.

Thirty-two percent of tertiary education graduates from sub-Saharan Africa also wish to leave the land of their ancestors, which is dramatic for the development ambitions of these countries.

This phenomenon affects Africa, which is unable to consolidate its development, while sparing the countries of Southeast Asia that have already successfully accomplished their industrial transition. The African migratory phenomenon has become the main geopolitical challenge of this century.

We can make three basic criticisms of this new UN pact. First, it does not distinguish between true political refugees and economic migrants. And it is unbalanced. It focuses much more the quality of reception, required of the countries of destination, than on the duties of the countries of departure.

It even allows itself to lecture the media of the host countries. Could the UN have forgotten that in the West there is still freedom of expression?

This pact recognises the sovereignty of states but it fails to ask the fundamental question of democracy. Do the peoples of the host countries have the right to freely decide on the protection of their borders? Are they legitimate when they ask that their laws be respected? Are they able or unwilling to choose whether they would like to stay as they are, or move to a multicultural society fed through immigration?

Finally, one wonders whether the UN today has better things to do than preach fine words to the rich countries that finance it. Why does it not focus on wars and massacres in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali?

Where is the admirable agronomic project of the “Great Green Wall”, supposed to run from Senegal to Djibouti, to stop the advance of the desert from north to south?

Since 1945, the UN has talked a lot and acted little (remember our catastrophic “mission” in Rwanda in 1994!). To abandon long speeches and focus on concrete achievements would do no harm to Mr Guterres’ African policy.

Translated from Le Figaro.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. nigel hunter says

    All efforts should be made to improve the economies of the sub Saharan economies so that they do not need to leave cos they can then live reasonable lives. The resources should be channeled to individual organisations businesses that are not controlled by Govnt. but should be monitored to check that they do the job. Some sort of incentive for this will have to be found which allows the Govnts of these countries to allow it.

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