UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Welcoming the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration

By Thomas Kemper*

We at Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief welcome and commend the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration signed by 164 nations at a United Nation’s convened conference in Marrakech, Morocco, on Dec. 10, 2018.

The intergovernmental agreement provides guidance to nations on how to deal humanely and responsibly with the increasing and inevitable movement of people today – migration for reasons of civil conflict, persecution, natural disasters, economic need and climate change.

The number of international migrants climbed from 85.5 million in 1970 to 258 million in 2017, according to United Nations sources, or some 3.4 percent of the earth’s population. 

While the compact is nonbinding, it is the first attempt on the part of nations collectively to address the growing realities and challenges of migration, an issue of historic importance to The United Methodist Church, Global Ministries as the denomination’s mission agency, and UMCOR as its disaster relief and development unit. 

One of the compact’s great values is in providing a framework for understanding the issues that cause movements of people today. It is a step toward shifting mindsets away from treating migration as something inherently bad to viewing it as a historical and continuing human reality influenced by unfolding political, social and economic factors. 

The compact’s full title is instructive. It seeks to make migration “safe, orderly and regular.” Were government and nongovernment organizations to collaborate in safe, orderly and regular policies, the sense of fear on the part of receiving nations would dissipate and the desperation of those on the move be reduced.

We are particularly impressed with the following provisions of the compact:

• A call for an end to detaining migrant children, which is an agreement not to treat children as criminals. As Christians, we uphold the sanctity of childhood, as did Jesus.

• Compatibility with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, recognizing that the root causes of migration, notably in the Global South, often relate to, or are caused by, economic growth in the Global North. As Christians, we believe that God uplifts the poor.

• Acknowledgement that climate change is a major cause of migration, and that we should expect, and assist, people to migrate when faced with acute disasters or chronic, slow-change conditions. As Christians, we accept the responsibility for the care for God’s creation. 

• Reflects previously articulated universal principles of human rights. Essentially, the compact is a reminder that people do not, and should not, forfeit their human rights when they migrate. As Christians, we believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God; likewise, no individuals can be separated from universal human rights. 

• Recognizes that women have agency, that is, capacity, skills and ability, to make choices. It does not treat women as vulnerable by class or definition but only by circumstance; women do not need to seek permission of men to seek better conditions for their families and themselves. This view is in keeping with the view of the women in the New Testament.

We regret that a group of nations, including the United States, disassociated themselves from the compact, refusing to attend the conference in Morocco or to engage in the hard work of negotiation leading to that event. The initial 2016 call for compact on migrants and another on refugees was issued by all 193 U.N. members. 

Since the compact is nonbinding, no nation needs fear loss of sovereignty. Some see the lack of enforceability as a weakness of agreement, but we pray it will be incentive for people and nations of conscience to work together in finding creative approaches to migration issues.

*Thomas Kemper is the general secretary of Global Ministries.