by Colin Blakely, Editor of the Church of England Newspaper and Co-Editor of ViaMedia.News
The last week has been a momentous one. Unfortunately, those who are reading this in the UK may be unaware of the level of importance of these events.
Of course the subject in question has long been controversial, and created divisions between the right and the left, between families and even between Governments. Last weekend, it even led to the collapse of the coalition Government in Belgium. But finally we may be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.
It all centres on the thorny subject of migration.
For some, it was the driving force behind the UK’s Brexit referendum result, but it continues to be a subject that has raised temperatures all around the world.
And the fact that real temperatures continue to rise is one reason that global migration is on the rise. Changes inflicted by our warming planet are making more places inhabitable. To survive, they simply have to move. But where to?
Last Monday at a conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, some 164 countries – including the UK — adopted the new Global Compact on Migration proposed by the United Nations. There are two principles to the pact: firstly that migration –which has always been a human fixture – should be managed and safe, and, secondly, that national policies are more likely to succeed with international co-operation.
It sounds reasonable and uncontroversial. However, for some those “troublesome migrants” are only on the move for economic reasons: they want our money and our jobs. And for some governments it has been seen as a sensible policy to ban humanitarian rescue ships in the Mediterranean rather than to save the lives of desperate people who will almost certainly die without intervention. To them, this new pact will only encourage more illegal immigration.
Here in the UK this story has hardly been reported. It’s been a bit like an important foreign language movie that is only on show at a few art house cinemas for one showing at an inconvenient time.
That may have helped the Government, as my colleagues in the media have been preoccupied with the extraordinary events in SW1 this week. That fact meant there was no backlash to the signing of the pact here in the way that happened in Brussels. But it could have been. Some media outlets had reported on the pact weeks before last week’s summit and the best interpretation they could find was that it could lead to anyone who opposed the EU’s migration policies being slung in jail. While it might have made a dramatic headline, it was far from the truth. That was just one of the “many falsehoods” that had been noted by the UN Secretary General António Guterres as he opened the Marrakesh conference.
And to be clear, this pact is not legally binding or even a formal treaty. Nor would it allow the UN — or anyone else [including the EU] — to impose migration policies on a member state. “It is a framework for international cooperation, rooted in an inter-governmental process of negotiation in good faith,” he told delegates in Marrakech.
The pact was signed as the UN is marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a point not lost on Mr Guterres: “Voluntary or forced; and whether or not they have been able to obtain formal authorisation for movement, all human beings must have their human rights respected and their dignity upheld.”
Making that reference to forced migration was also meant to include the threat of human trafficking – an issue to which the world has woken up in recent years. That was an issue that brought to the fore by many Christian agencies and their action prompted Government action here in the UK.
Climate change, migration, human trafficking and the battle for human rights have all been ideas championed by influential Christian movements over the years. This latest pact is a testament to their hard work.
Indeed as we think of one particular family who was forced into migration 2,000 years ago, the Marrakesh Conference is in part a testament to them, and gives us all, and even the Government in Brussels, a worthy standard to set.