UN ratifies migrant pact; Israel and US among five to vote against

UN ratifies migrant pact; Israel and US among five to vote against

Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration aims to open up legal movement and discourage illegal border crossings in response to 250 million on the move globally

A migrant crosses the US-Mexico border fence before turning himself in to US Border Patrol in Tijuana, Mexico, on December 16, 2018. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)
A migrant crosses the US-Mexico border fence before turning himself in to US Border Patrol in Tijuana, Mexico, on December 16, 2018. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly on Wednesday formally ratified a UN deal on migration by a large majority — but without the support of the United States and a string of other countries.

A total of 152 countries voted in favor of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which was agreed upon earlier this month by 165 UN members at a meeting in Morocco.

Twelve countries abstained while five nations voted against it — the United States, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Israel. The Jewish state is a goal for many African migrants and tens of thousands have already slipped into the country where their fate remains a contentious issue.

Billed as the first international document on managing migration, it lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and discourage illegal border crossings, as the number of people on the move globally has surged to more than 250 million.

Detained African migrants standing outside the Holot detention center, located in Israel’s southern Negev desert near the Egyptian border, February 4, 2018. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP)

Rows over the accord have erupted in several European Union nations, sparking the collapse of Belgium’s coalition government and pushing Slovakia’s foreign minister to tender his resignation.

From the United States to Europe and beyond, right-wing and populist leaders have taken increasingly draconian measures to shut out migrants in recent years.

According to diplomats, the United States had sought up to the last-minute to convince other countries not to support the pact.

In November Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel would not sign the pact and cited security concerns.

“We have a duty to protect our borders against illegal infiltrators. That’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we will continue to do,” he said in a statement.

Antagonism in Israel toward migrants has hardened in recent years with an estimated 35,000 African migrants in the country facing hostility from lawmakers and residents in communities with high migrant populations. According to a Pew Research Center survey last month, 57 percent of Israelis oppose accepting refugees fleeing war and conflict, ranking well behind that of citizens in many other Western countries.

The High Court of Justice has pushed back against government plans to jail or deport the migrants, saying a solution in line with international norms must be found.

African asylum seekers and activists protest against plans to deport migrants at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on March 24, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Africans, mainly from war-torn Sudan and dictatorial Eritrea, began arriving in Israel in 2005, through its porous border with Egypt, after Egyptian forces violently quashed a refugee demonstration in Cairo and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the desert border, often after enduring dangerous journeys, before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

While the migrants say they are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, Israel views them as job-seekers who threaten the Jewish character of the state.

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