Switzerland backtracks on support for the United Nations agreement on migration

The opposition of the United States and several key nations on the subject to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is, in particular, a negative outcome for Mexico

Switzerland backtrack on support for the United Nations agreement on migration
A front loader passes next to a double barbed wire fence - Photo: Ognen Teofilovski/REUTERS
English 23/11/2018 18:37 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 18:43
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The opposition of the United States and several key nations on the subject to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is, in particular, a negative outcome for Mexico, which has seen this week the virtual withdrawal of Switzerland, an ally deeply involved in the 18 months of negotiations that led to the final draft of the deal.

On Wednesday, the Federal Council— the executive branch of the government—in Bern announced that it has delayed signing the United Nations deal until the issue is debated in the country’s Parliament.

The compact matches Switzerland’s interests in reducing irregular migration, and would still likely adopt the agreement, it added, yet it will not attend the international conference with heads of state and government in Marrakech, Morocco next month for the formal signing of the deal. Instead, the cabinet would present it to Parliament for consultation as required by law.

Earlier this month, reacting to the Austrian and Eastern European opposition to the agreement, Pietro Mona, Swiss Ambassador in charge of Development and Migration Policy, said Helvetic diplomats deserved credit for having the pact become the first international document to set out states’ obligation to cooperate in taking back citizens.

“The migration pact gives us an additional instrument that helps us negotiate repatriation agreements, for instance with countries like Eritrea,” he underscored in an interview with the Blick newspaper.

After some hesitation, Switzerland said on October it would sign the compact while clarifying its position on detaining minors from the age of 15 pending deportation, which Swiss law allows yet the toothless, non-binding U.N. deal discourages.

In a statement, the Helvetic government said that “since every state is free to decide which actions it wishes to use to achieve the objectives (of the U.N. deal) the identified deviation does not pose an obstacle to approving the Global Compact for Migration.”

In various other areas, the Alpine nation is already implementing the recommendations, reported swissinfo.ch. “The guiding principles and objectives correspond fully with Switzerland’s policy on migration, for example concerning more assistance on the ground, combating human trafficking and human smuggling, secure borders, respect for human rights, returns, and reintegration as well as lasting integration,” the official statement said.

Minister’s compromise

In addition, Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis pledged to ensure that the pact does not have a negative impact on the country.

However, committees in both houses of Parliament called for delaying the Swiss signature and giving lawmakers—and perhaps voters in a referendum—the chance to decide the matter.

Some politicians, especially from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, complained that the pact could blur the distinction between legal and illegal migration and “undermine the sovereignty,” in line with the conservative, populist governments of Hungary and Poland.

The Swiss support for the deal was relevant to Mexico, an origin and transit country plunged in the midst of a new regional crisis with the Central American Migrant Caravans heading to the U.S. southern border. For a long time, Mexico has been a decided advocate of a multilateral approach to the issue promoting in 2006, for instance, the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in the U.N. General Assembly.

Last year, Mexican Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Miguel Ruiz Cabañas declared that the Global Compact promoted with Switzerland would establish basic principles on states’ rights and duties aiming to “put limits on the racist and xenophobic actions” taking place in several countries.

“In the Foreign Affairs Ministry (SRE) we think that this global pact can set the reference framework which is absent about the states’ duties and rights, what are the duties and rights of the migrants themselves and thereby strengthening the legal framework, strengthening international cooperation and resisting the global wave of xenophobia and racism that is taking place not only in our continent, yet also in several parts of the world,” Ruiz Cabañas stressed.

For its part, the Interior Ministry (Segob) highlighted on March that together with Switzerland, “Mexico has vigorously encouraged the signing of the pact which will not be binding, yet is expected to have enough weight to reverse the migration narrative.”

Last week, during a lackluster Iberoamerican Summit in Guatemala, the outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto accepted that recent events such as the Central American Migrant Caravans are giving a new dimension to the problem.

Peña Nieto called on all nations to join the Global Compact for Migration and to act in accordance with its principles, goals, and commitments, remarking that the migrants and asylum seekers also have the duty to respect other countries’ laws and regulations.

“It is true that the best way to avoid having people migrate involuntarily is by promoting, among other things, internal development in our nations,” he said.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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