Last week, 163 countries signed the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Most of the media coverage and commentary has been about those not signing or those threatening not to sign. The prime ministers of Belgium and Denmark took part in the opening debate at the Inter-governmental Conference in Marrakech on December 10, but it was the political upheavals in their countries that grabbed the attention. In Belgium, the government has been on the verge of collapsing. In Denmark, plans to banish asylum seekers previously convicted of a crime to a small island have been criticized.
But the main substantive questioning is over whether the outcome is anything more than just wish words. At the end of the day, it is not the first time a migration agreement causes controversy: the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families has only been ratified by a quarter of countries only, none of them among the major migrant-receiving ones.
From an education perspective, while it is a non-binding agreement, the Compact’s inclusion of education in the migration agenda is novel and long overdue.
Education is a core aspect of migrants’ realities, as we showed without doubt in the 2019 GEM Report. In Europe, immigrants are twice as likely to drop out of school. In France, they are twice as likely to repeat a year. Many are making their moves because of education, seeking to improve their opportunities, and often doing so. Education is also vital to helping new arrivals integrate, and host countries accommodate. One in eight immigrants in Europe considered that the lack of recognition of their prior learning and qualifications was the most important factor preventing their labour market success, as we showed in our recent policy paper.
These links had been overlooked in many global strategies on migration. The International Organization for Migration, for instance. has carried out a large variety of project-related interventions over six decades, ranging from covering school transport costs and supporting vocational education programmes in sending countries to training border officials. But there was no systematic and strategic approach.
It may not be surprising that it has taken so long to find a systematic approach on such a complex, diverse and contested terrain as migration. However, the Compact’s final draft text puts most of the key issues on the table. It conveys a generally positive message of education as an opportunity to make the most of migratory flows. It describes access to basic services including education, refers to education beyond schooling, gives attention to skills recognition and more.
What the commitments on education will accomplish is unknown, since it is non-binding. But querying whether it is ‘dead on arrival’, as some commentators have done, is to diminish the normative value of the Compact for giving a platform for new discussions to occur. From our own perspective, for instance, the Compact has helped open doors to discussions with policy makers aware that the theme is one under the microscope on a global platform.
We know that the implementation success of the Compact depends on the mechanisms that are set up to assess progress. The International Migration Review Forum will help do this, taking place every four years starting in 2022 and aligning with the High-Level Political Forum, the apex mechanism for global SDG follow-up and review.
So, let’s not dismiss it too early. And let’s not allow politics to bulldoze over the face that important progressive elements are in the text, including on education.