Australia and Poland join US rejection of UN migration pact

Jamie Smyth, SYDNEY, (FT): Australia and Poland have refused to support a pact designed to improve global co-operation on migration, joining populist governments in the US, Hungary and Austria in opposing the UN’s accord. 

Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, said on Wednesday that the UN agreement would compromise the government’s hardline immigration policy and risked encouraging “illegal entry” into the country and helping people smugglers.

“I would never allow something to compromise our borders, I worked too hard to ensure that we weren’t in that position,” said Mr Morrison.

“This Global Compact on Migration, it’s not a good deal. We’re not going to sign up to it because I believe it would compromise us.”

Australia’s rejection of the pact follows a further hardening of immigration policy by its conservative government, which oversees one of the toughest asylum policies in the world by detaining refugees on tiny islands in the South Pacific. Canberra is also preparing to cut legal migration, signalling this week it would reduce the annual immigration cap by 30,000 people to 160,000.

Warsaw said the UN pact failed to meet demands regarding its right to determine who it accepted into its territory and over the distinction between legal and illegal migration.

Legal experts say both governments’ concerns about the practical effects of the pact are misplaced as it is not legally binding. But the growing number of countries rejecting the pact is a symbolic blow to UN efforts to co-ordinate a response to a global migration crisis, in which a record 68.5m people were displaced from their homes last year.

“The global compact on migration does not impose new legal obligations on states and is not an international treaty,” said Guy Goodwin-Gill, law professor at University New South Wales.

“To say otherwise is utter nonsense or intentional disinformation.”

The pact outlines a set of principles and policies to help governments manage people flows and better protect migrants. It has been negotiated by international governments over 18 months and is due to be adopted in December.

The UN said Australia’s decision to disengage from a multilateral process was “regrettable”.

“There are two core elements running throughout the text,” the UN said. “First, that national sovereignty must be respected: the migration policies best suited for one country are not necessarily the same for others . . . And second, that the most effective means of implementing a national migration policy is through international co-operation.”

Although the pact is not legally binding, it has galvanised opposition among rightwing nationalist politicians in Europe, the US and elsewhere. The US rejected the pact last year, saying it could not support a process that could undermine “the sovereign right of the US to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders”.

Hungary has described the UN pact as “making it a human right to find a new place around the globe”.

(Australia’s rejection of the UN pact follows a hardening of its immigration policy, under which asylum seekers are housed on remote Pacific islands such as Manus in Papua New Guinea © EPA)

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