A History of Global Migration Governance: Challenging Linearity

Research output: Working paper / PreprintWorking paper


In December 2018 states adopted two Global Compacts, one on migration and one on refugees, establishing roadmaps for the future of international cooperation relevant to population movements. While often attributed to the “migration crises” of 2015, the Global Compacts are the product of more than one hundred years of institution-building during which the world has evolved tremendously. Challenging linear accounts of the evolution of global migration governance, this paper reviews the main developments relevant to global migration governance from 1919 to 2018. A tension between informality with action, and formality with inaction, has impacted the way that global migration governance has evolved. Proponents of a ‘management’ approach to global migration governance, primarily countries in the Global North, have preferred to keep intergovernmental discussions regarding migration outside of the United Nations (UN) in various state-led fora in different regional and global settings. Conversely, countries in the Global South, along with normative organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), have sought to further a rights-based approach to the governance of migration within the UN. The ‘migration and development’ approach to global migration governance was used by Kofi Annan and Peter Sutherland in the 2000s to bring together states with fundamentally different views concerning the governance of migration. However, the outcome of these efforts is arguably a form of global governance that continues to reflect the preference of states, particularly in the Global North, to organize intergovernmental relations on migration in an informal and non-binding way.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherInternational Migration Institute
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2020

JEL classifications

  • o19 - "International Linkages to Development; Role of International Organizations"
  • f53 - "International Agreements and Observance; International Organizations"


  • global migration governance
  • international organizations
  • multilateralism
  • United Nations

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