Inclusive Global Migration Governance: Embracing Non-State Actors and Cities for Multilateral Solutions

Raphaela Schweiger
October 09, 2023

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), an instrumental achievement adopted by a vast majority of states in Marrakech in 2018, has significantly reshaped global migration governance. It not only brought one of the last outstanding global issues into the UN system but also changed international cooperation on migration on multiple fronts: The GCM for the first time provided a common language and reference point on global migration, established essential mechanisms for review and implementation, created a platform for cooperation, and brought non-state actors and cities to the forefront of global migration debates. In my book Beyond States. The Global Compact for Migration and the role of non-state actors and cities, I show that the GCM owes much of its content to the input and expertise of these non-state actors, as well as an inclusive consultation process.

Going forward, we need to use current opportunities to improve this evolved migration system to make it more effective and ready to respond to the great challenges of our time. For that we need to establish a systematic and institutionalized role for non-state actors and local authorities within the UN system and empower these actors – including with resources – to meaningfully participate in and contribute to UN debates. 

Since the adoption of the GCM, noteworthy progress has been made. The establishment of the UN Network on Migration, led by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), enhanced coordination among governmental and non-governmental actors. The Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF), primarily funded by governments, promises support for GCM implementation projects worldwide. Moreover, the inaugural International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) held at the UN in New York in May 2022, culminated in the adoption of a Progress Declaration. Considering the contentious nature of the debates around the GCM adoption conference 2018, this marks a notable achievement. However, there is still vast untapped potential for action. Drawing lessons from the GCM process for both, non-state actors and the international system, can guide us in shaping migration governance in our ever-changing world. Therefore, I believe three critical points should drive our joint efforts:

Shaping the Future of Global Migration Governance

The next five years will be pivotal for the multilateral system on migration. As we face significant and intersecting challenges such as the consequences of the climate crisis, rising numbers in forced displacement, increased labor needs in many parts of the world, and drastic changes to our world due to disruptive technologies, governments alone cannot address these complexities. Stakeholders, alongside the UN system and states, must take the lead in shaping the future of migration governance. Furthermore, the legitimacy of the UN system relies on involving civil society, cities, and other stakeholders, bringing global debates to the local and national levels. It is through the expertise and engagement of stakeholders that global processes can become relevant and effective.

The new leadership of the IOM will play a crucial role in guiding the further and strategic implementation of the GCM. Under the stewardship of Amy Pope, the new Director-General of IOM, the GCM can serve as the guiding document - the 'North Star' - for IOM's activities and strategic direction. Pope already announced that in order to implement the vision of the GCM, IOM “must improve the way that it engages with its member states, other stakeholders, and migrants themselves to address the root causes of migration and to build comprehensive, strategic approaches to migration pressures.” This entails securing support from governments that have not yet adopted the GCM and ensuring that non-state actors in all their diversity, and cities are central to the implementation process, including the financing activities of the MPTF. The upcoming IMRF in 2026, marking ten years since the adoption of the New York Declaration – a milestone document paving the way for the GCM and the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) – presents a critical milestone to reinforce and enhance the GCM.

In addition, we must address the diverse systemic challenges within the global migration landscape. The relationship between the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD)––a state-led, informal, and non-binding process that takes place annually outside the UN though with significant UN participation––and the GCM's implementation, review, and follow-up processes needs clarification. We must identify and address the gaps that leave people on the move in suffering. A future governance model for migration should provide clarity on mandates, resource allocation, and roles.

Strengthening the UN through Inclusive Process Design

Improving the UN system also necessitates a renewed focus on process design and the inclusion of stakeholders: Who are the stakeholders in the space that can drive innovation and (new) ideas to the challenges of our time? Which communities are most affected? And where can diverse perspectives be beneficial to solving complicated policy questions? The complexities of today’s challenges require multi-perspectivity and joint action. This must be reflected in the setup of UN processes. 

The GCM exemplified the significance of well-defined modalities that allow non-state actors to participate while preserving the intergovernmental nature of a process. Throughout the GCM process, non-state actors, and even cities, were provided numerous opportunities to contribute their expertise. However, with civil society spaces shrinking globally, it is imperative to establish a systematic and institutionalized role for non-state actors and local authorities within the UN. This requires establishing substantive standards for their inclusion in intergovernmental negotiations, and acknowledging the unique roles played by different actor types. 

Mayors and local authorities, who emerged as influential voices during the GCM process, should be granted formal inclusion in UN sessions and negotiations, given their key role in the multi-level governance on so many global issues – from climate change to sustainable development, to migration. By embracing inclusivity and recognizing the expertise of these stakeholders, with their often-important ties to the local level, we can strengthen the UN and promote more effective global governance on migration-related issues.

Empowering Stakeholders for Effective Engagement in the UN System

As we strive for improvements within the UN system, stakeholders must also step up their game and adopt a more strategic approach to their work and engagement. Meaningful participation requires a specific skill set and the necessary tools. Through my research, I have identified key factors that contribute to successful advocacy in the UN system:

  1. Clear goals and mandates empower stakeholders to bring focused proposals, expertise, and knowledge to the table. Organizations that can articulate their requests, provide sound reasoning, and leverage on-the-ground insights have a greater impact on decision-making processes.
  2. Experience and knowledge of the UN system are crucial. Stakeholders who understand how to navigate existing networks strategically and purposefully are more likely to achieve their objectives. Familiarity with the UN system, including effective language suggestions and knowing when and how to engage with co-facilitators, is invaluable. Building trusted networks with diplomats and decision-makers enables timely and influential engagement during critical moments.
  3. Credibility plays a significant role. Stakeholders who present themselves as experts, rather than solely advocating for their own interests, are viewed as more credible by diplomats, governments, and negotiators. Demonstrating expertise and a willingness to contribute constructively to dialogue enhances credibility and increases influence.
  4. Consolidating input and concerns through alliances makes them more relevant and credible to diplomats. Whether it is a single actor or a multi-stakeholder group, collaborations that bring together diverse perspectives are highly valued by governments. Despite the challenges faced by civil society in forming such alliances, their impact is undeniable.

However, it is important to acknowledge that meaningful engagement and participation comes at a cost. Stakeholders require resources - time, funding, and structures - to participate in a strategic and impactful manner. The UN system should proactively and strategically provide these resources to enable stakeholders to engage meaningfully. 

By understanding and implementing these factors, stakeholders can enhance their influence and achieve results within the UN system. It is essential for the UN to recognize the value of stakeholders' contributions and ensure they are adequately supported to participate effectively. 

In conclusion, while the GCM has paved the way for improved global migration governance, there is still much work ahead. By embracing stakeholder inclusion, recognizing the role of non-state actors and local authorities, and leveraging their expertise, we can drive meaningful change in migration policies and create a more inclusive and effective multilateral system. The next few years offer a crucial opportunity to strengthen the GCM and ensure its successful implementation, with stakeholders playing a central role in shaping the future of migration governance. It is through our collective efforts that we can navigate the complexities of migration and create a more just and sustainable world for all.

About the author

Raphaela Schweiger is a global governance expert with extensive experience in philanthropy, academia, NGOs, civil society, and the UN system. Raphaela is a 2023 Yale World Fellow and the Director of the Migration Program at the Robert Bosch Foundation, where she leads on the intersection of migration with key other global issues, such as climate change, or new technologies. She tweets at @R__Schweiger and you can connect with her on LinkedIn.

This think-piece is based on the authors' book Beyond States. The Global Compact for Migration and the role of non-state actors and cities (Springer VS). 

The views and opinions expressed in this think-piece are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SIPA or Columbia University.