The Trump administration’s once-lonely opposition to an ambitious U.N. pact on the treatment of migrants worldwide is picking up allies, as the Czech Republic on Wednesday became the latest European country to reverse course and say it will not join the compact.
The move appeared to give President Trump fresh reinforcements in a raging global debate between pro-immigration globalists and those who argue for greater national sovereignty and local control of borders. The debate was highlighted by a recent clash between Mr. Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron over the American president’s embrace of the label “nationalist.”
The debate has been particularly fierce in Europe, where smaller central and Eastern European nations have resisted pressure from European Union officials in Brussels to be more liberal in allowing in refugees fleeing Syria, Libya and other global trouble spots. Many fear their political and cultural traditions and identities will be swamped if they cede control of their immigration policies, and immigration-skeptic parties have made electoral gains in countries such as Germany, Austria, Poland, Italy and Spain.
After dropping out of negotiations on an accord late last year, the U.S. in July was the only one of 193 U.N. member states not to approve the proposed Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, billed as the first comprehensive effort by the United Nations to set nonbinding measures on a common approach to migration issues such as asylum and repatriation.
“No country has done more than the United States, and our generosity will continue,” Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told her colleagues in December when announcing that the Trump administration would withdraw from the talks. “But our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone.”
Mrs. Haley’s parents are immigrants from India.
“We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country,” she said.
But the near-unanimity is weakening as several countries balk at signing the final deal at a ceremony set for next month in Marrakech, Morocco.
“The Czech Republic has long favored the principle of separating legal and illegal migration,” Deputy Prime Minister Richard Brabec told a news conference.
“That is what the Czech Republic’s and other European countries’ suggestions aimed for,” he said. “The final text [of the pact] does not reflect those proposals.”
Nationalist, anti-immigration politicians have echoed the Czech concerns in Austria, Hungary and Croatia, where President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic announced she would not sign the Marrakech agreement. Officials in Bulgaria and Poland have indicated that their countries also will not sign onto the final deal.
In withdrawing his country from the agreement, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, elected late last year on an anti-immigration platform, told reporters, “We view some points of the migration pact very critically, such as the mixing-up of seeking protection with labor migration.”
The pact’s supporters say the fears of intervention in the rights of individual countries to set their own immigration polices or control their borders are vastly overblown.
Louise Arbour, a veteran Canadian lawyer and diplomat who is serving as U.N. special representative for international migration, has called actions against the pact “regrettable” and “mistaken” and defended the overall process as an effort to more humanely manage the massive migrant problem that affects countries on every continent.
“We live in an increasingly interconnected world,” Ms. Arbour has said. “It is difficult to see what the advantages are of ‘pulling out’ on an issue which by its very nature demands cooperation.”
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, also has appealed for EU unity on the issue and voiced frustration about the countries bailing on the compact.
Drafters say the U.N. agreement was conceived in response to the explosion of migrants into Europe fleeing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, as well as the problems of failed states, poverty and hunger in parts of Africa. Population researchers have called it the largest movement of people since World War II.
Among its stated objectives: to ensure migrants have adequate documentation and identity papers; coordinating international efforts to aid missing migrants; setting conditions for the safe return of migrants to their home countries; and “creating conditions to allow migrants to contribute to sustainable development in all countries.”
Frey Lindsay, journalist and host of “The Migrant Crisis” podcast, recently noted that the countries now rejecting the compact are essentially making the same argument that Ms. Haley used this summer.
“The main concerns appear to be sovereignty, and that the pact actively encourages migration by conflating refugees and economic migrants,” Mr. Lindsay wrote this week.
Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign leaned heavily on his skepticism of the benefits of immigration and the need for tighter border security. The Trump administration has also shown a marked dislike for the kinds of multilateral accords that they say infringe on U.S. sovereignty and give power to unelected international bureaucrats.
U.N. officials insisted Wednesday they remain confident that the compact can go forward despite U.S. objections and the European defections.
“I don’t think it’s catastrophic that we have six countries refusing,” Ahunna Eziakonwa, African bureau chief of the U.N. Development Program, told the Russian Sputnik news service. She said the compact was not perfect but represented “the best opportunity we have to address the root causes of the problem.”
“I think the situation underlines the fact that people are still guided by fear rather than evidence of what migration is all about,” she said.