Evidence, Data and the Global Compacts
In April 2019, the Migration Leadership Team held its Brussels Migration Conversation, in partnership with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) and the Research Social Platform on Migration and Asylum. The full report of that meeting is available here, as are the reports of the other conversations.
A major theme of the conversation was on thinking about the role of evidence and data on the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) adopted by United Nations (UN) member states in December 2018. We present an excerpt of our report here, given its timeliness and in the hopes that it may provide a useful contribution to the stocktaking that is currently taking place in the run-up to the Global Refugee Forum to be held in Geneva in December 2019.
Focus on the Global Compacts
The two Compacts underline the need to collect and utilize reliable, comparable and timely data as a basis for evidence-based policies and for effective monitoring and implementation. They also envisage the adoption of a multi-stakeholder approach, which foresees the involvement of a broad set of actors – including independent civil society organisations, local communities and refugees themselves – in ensuring monitoring and accountability towards the achievement of the Compacts’ objectives. This panel also provided feedback to a recent ReSOMA policy options brief on the GCR and informed the upcoming work on the GCM in this project.
As the attention of relevant stakeholders has now turned to the implementation and effective monitoring of the Compacts, the panel focused on the following main questions:
a) How can data and evidence be used for implementing the GCR and GCM?
b) What forms of collaboration among states, international organizations and other relevant stakeholders are envisaged to foster evidence-based policy responses?
c) How to respect in this process the independence of both scholars and civil society and their larger role in upholding the democratic rule of law?
There was general agreement among participants on the importance of data and evidence for ensuring successful implementation of the two Global Compacts. It was underlined that Compacts are non-binding instruments so that developing an evidence-based framework based on a set of common indicators for monitoring progress is of paramount importance. A speaker also reminded the group that the current international refugee regime does not include binding commitments on states when it comes to burden-sharing and supporting the main countries hosting refugees, which is the key gap that the GCR is trying to address. Even less regulated is the governance of international migration, where the only legal instrument – The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families – is not ratified by any of the EU Member States and nor major countries of destination in the Global North, though importantly it has been ratified by major destination countries including Mexico, Egypt, Argentina, Libya, Turkey and Colombia. Therefore, the GCM as a non-binding instrument is an attempt to agree globally on common principles and approaches in devising migration policies at the regional or national level.
The discussion then shifted to assessing the state of play in establishing a monitoring framework for the two Global Compacts. In this regard, it was underlined that much more progress in this area has been achieved in the case of the GCR than the GCM. For the GCR, the UNHCR took a leading role in the process, in line with the commitment included in the Compact to develop a set of indicators ahead of the first Global Refugee Forum in 2019. UNHCR’s efforts were welcomed as an important step in designing a robust monitoring framework and ensuring accountability towards achieving the Compact’s objectives.
Participants also reflected on the reasons for this uneven progress in the two Compacts. First, it was recognized that while the GCR is structured around four key objectives, the GCM counts 23 objectives, which makes it much more difficult to develop a comprehensive monitoring framework. Furthermore, participants underlined political motivations to explain limited progress under the GCM: the latter addresses several sensitive issues on which member states are reluctant to allow for a thorough monitoring of their policies and legal frameworks. Moreover, even the process of building indicators is not politically neutral. The choice of methodologies used to collect data or the decision to give priority to specific indicators may be controversial from the perspectives of states and likely to require extensive consultation.
The importance of political will to improve upon existing policies was underlined in the case of refugee policies. Support from states in East Africa allowed to achieve progress in the implementation of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) in the region over the past years. This experience underlines the potential of data and evidence in enlarging the space to pursue refugee inclusion and self-reliance – for example through the experience of the Regional Durable Solutions Secretariat. Thus, the implementation of the GCR can count on a set of already-developed initiatives in key areas of intervention, which is going to facilitate progress towards achieving the objectives.
The discussion also identified a number of proposals for improving upon the current state of play, focusing in particular on the role that civil society could play in supporting effective and independent monitoring of the Global Compacts.
One participant, in the context of the discussion for drafting indicators for the GCR, underlined three priorities for GCR indicators:
1) indicators should be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
2) they should be outcome, not output, focused; and
3) they should fully include refugees (and IDPs) in national systems, statistics and development plans.
According to the same panelist, some key lessons from the SDG process can be learned for the development of GCR indicators. Specifically, in line with the SDG agenda, the GCR monitoring framework should propose concrete, time-bound and refugee-specific targets to achieve both the SDGs and GCR objectives. The GCR provides a great opportunity to build on some of the progress made and fill some of the gaps in data collection, so as to accelerate progress in reaching the SDGs by ensuring outcomes for refugees are fully captured by data collected. Furthermore, to ensure that the most is made of this opportunity, the GCR monitoring framework should provide guidance on how each country could develop national targets for refugees in the medium term, in line with SDG targets set for their own populations. Data collected towards national targets could then be aggregated across all countries to show global progress.
Participants underlined the need to shift from outputs monitoring towards better assessments of impacts. Therefore, current focus on quantitative data should be complemented with qualitative data that is aiming at monitoring the impact of policy initiatives undertaken in the framework of the Compacts. Currently, quantitative data focus only on a limited number of issues and aspects of outputs (i.e. number of trainings organized, number of participants), which does not allow linking these interventions with actual changes on the ground. Quantitative evidence would also improve understanding of key societal phenomena related to migration and refugee mobility and subsequently could lead to better decision-making.
The participants called for shedding light on aspects that are not accounted for in currently available data by expanding the network of stakeholders feeding in such evidence and data. For example, refugee and migrant community organizations, refugee-led organizations, women migrant and refugee organizations, as well as individual experts with refugee and migrant background are new potential stakeholders. They should be better involved in relevant policy debates and reform processes, concerning their communities. In addition, it is also crucial to improve collaboration with and among various stakeholders, including public institutions, private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). A representative from civil society underlined that the GCM provides for improving current evidence on some key issues of concern, through increased collaboration among stakeholders. However, such cooperation may entail some personal or sensitive data and therefore can only happen under the principle of clear separation of respective mandates, known as ‘firewalls’.
Within the scope of the newly formed UN Migration Network, one of the proposed working sessions would be to undertake a global mapping of ‘firewalls’. Firewalls are designed to ensure that immigration enforcement authorities are not able to access information concerning the immigration status of individuals who seek assistance or services at, for example, medical facilities, schools, and other social service institutions, or NGOs.
Another key issue that emerged during the discussion is the role of civil society in ensuring independent monitoring of the two global compacts. Civil society can complement and cover issues that may not be included in the official evaluation framework. In the case of the GCR, for example, key issues to be monitored include asylum seekers’ access to protection, reception conditions, and refugees’ access to social and economic rights in their hosting countries.
In the area of migration, civil society is advocating states to systematically monitor and report the number of children under immigration detention. Such data is lacking or is not adequate.
The civil society therefore should have better access to data on children in immigration detention, best interest assessments and determination procedures in order to uphold the best interest of the child. Such information is also crucial for evidence-based policy making, documenting good practices (including alternatives to detention) and providing recommendations for law, policy and practice to prevent and significantly reduce the number of children deprived of liberty.
A final cross-cutting issue touched upon is the role of data and evidence in monitoring and assessing policy coherence when implementing the Compacts. In particular, a participant underlined the case of some recent policy developments at the EU level that are not in line with the objectives included in the GCM. The Recast Return Directive released by the Commission in September 2018, includes a set of provisions, such as expanding the ground for detention of individuals who are subject to a return procedure, lowering of their procedural safeguards, as well as a focus on forced instead that voluntary return, which stand at odds with the rights-based approach of the GCM.
In addition, it was reported that the fact that the Commission’s proposal on the Recast Return Directive was not accompanied by an impact assessment was recognized as particularly problematic in relation to the objective of fostering evidence-based policy making, stressed by the Compacts and EU’s own Better Regulation Guidelines. Along the same lines, the proposal for a revised European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG), presented by the Commission in September 2018, included a provision on the possibility for the EBCG to coordinate or organize return operations from a third country. It also lacked evidence and was equally problematic in light of the commitment to uphold international human rights standards of migrants included in the GCM.
Participants also questioned the coherence of current EU policies with the objectives of the GCR. It was underlined, for example, that policy initiatives which aim to prevent or restrict mobility of migrants and refugees in East Africa (including through the provision of financial incentives to countries in the region in exchange for their efforts in the field of migration management) may negatively impact refugees’ access to protection and durable solutions.
In conclusion, participants underlined the role of civil society actors in monitoring and assessing the role and contribution of the EU and its member states in ways that are loyal to the Compacts principles and objectives, including respect of relevant fundamental rights standards. In line with this objective, the process of implementation of the two Compacts should also serve to shed lights on gaps and contested issues in existing migration and asylum policies implemented by the EU and its Member States.