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Assessing the role of international organizations in implementing the UN Global Compacts (IO COMPACTS)

Flag-lined walkway up to the United Nations building

The adoption of the Global Compact for Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees is a critical milestone. Their implementation implies new and potentially lasting organizational forms (policy forums, reporting routines and capacity building programs) that could herald a coherent migration and refugee governance. That is why this research project examines how various international organizations (UNHCR, IOM and UN Network on Migration) create, promote and sustain organizational forms to implement the UN Global Compacts. By studying the discourses and practices of these crucial actors, this project would offer insights on how they reshape the migration and refugee policy agenda.     

  1. How do the UNHCR and the UN Network on Migration implement the UN Global Compacts? How do they develop new organizational forms to govern migration and refugees?
  2. How does the IOM engage in the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration? Does the commitment to promote and safeguard the Compact allow the IOM to appear as a more value-inspired organization?
  3. What is the new role that the IOM and UNHCR have taken up, since the adoption of the UN Global Compacts, to govern mixed migration? As the Compacts refrained from establishing a clear division of labour between them, are the IOM and UNHCR cooperating or competing to govern mixed migration?   

The UN Global Compacts are legally non-binding. Yet they represent the commitment of states to collectively address globalized and sometimes unstable flows of migrants and refugees. Building on this consensus, international organizations engaged in setting up new organizational forms to implement the Compacts. Thus, they effectively coordinate, channel and monitor states' efforts to fulfil their commitments by organising the Global Refugee Forum and International Migration Review Forum, drafting reports to the UN General Assembly and the UN Secretary General, and setting up an Indicator Framework to monitor success and a Multi-Partner Trust Fund. But one striking feature of these organizational forms lies in their open-ended character as the Compacts are not explicitly bound by an expiry date. This begs the question of their potential permanence and the role of international organizations in their implementation.

However, the Compacts do not only allow international organizations to create new and potentially lasting organizational forms. Some international organizations attempt through their involvement in the Compacts’ implementation to expand their autonomy and reinforce their authority vis-à-vis states. This is notably the case of the IOM whose commitment to promote and safeguard the Global Compact for Migration could provide it with the moral authority to avoid being reduced to the role of a mere service provider for the states. Moreover, the compacts left much room for ambiguity regarding the governance of mixed migration and the role of the IOM and the UNHCR therein. As these international organizations attempt to clarify such ambiguity, they are faced with the option of either cooperating or expanding their autonomy at the expense of one another.

By examining the many ways international organizations leverage the UN Global Compacts, this research project would be able to scrutinize the possible emergence of a coherent global migration and refugee governance regime.

This research project will carry out a critical discourse analysis of various policy documents and interviews conducted with staff members of the selected international organizations that are relevant to the implementation of the UN Global Compacts. This methodology will allow us to highlight the strategies of international organizations that aim to create, promote and sustain various organizational forms.  

We are currently analysing the role of the UNHCR and the UN Network on Migration in shaping the global and regional consultations related to the UN Global Compacts. We are also analysing the IOM Strategic Vision which determines the IOM’s role regarding the Global Compact for Migration. Finally, we are exploring the relevant literature regarding the governance of mixed migration and the role of the UNHCR and the IOM therein.  

Spring 2022

CERC Migration

migration and refugee governance, global compacts, international organizations, critical discourse analysis