Bulgaria Joins Ranks of European Countries That Reject UN Migrant Pact

November 12, 2018 Updated: November 12, 2018

LONDON—Bulgaria is the latest European country to reject the U.N. migrant pact that’s already been shunned by the United States.

Since the migrant crisis in 2015, European countries have tightened immigration and are rehashing EU-wide policies.

On the eastern edge of the EU, Bulgaria has been one of the main routes for immigrants from war-torn regions in the Middle East.

“The position of the Bulgarian government will be not to join the United Nations’ global pact on migration,” Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the deputy leader of the main ruling center-right GERB party, said after a meeting of coalition chiefs.

The United States said last year that it wouldn’t sign the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), which sets out global standards and guidelines for countries to address immigration. It isn’t legally binding.

The other 193 members of the U.N. had all agreed to sign the pact until Hungary broke ranks in June, followed quickly by Austria, and then Croatia. The Czech Republic and Poland have indicated they may also withdraw.

Austria’s Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said Austria won’t sign the document or send an official representative to Morocco in December, when the agreement is expected to be signed.

The Austrian leaders cited, among other things, fears about a possible watering-down of the distinction between legal and illegal migration.

“Some of the contents go diametrically against our position,” said Strache. “Migration is not and cannot become a human right.”

“It cannot be that someone receives a right to migration because of the climate or poverty.”

The migration agreement was finalized under U.N. auspices in July. It’s due to be formally approved at a meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, held from Dec. 11 to 12.

The U.N. pact addresses issues such as how to protect people who migrate, how to integrate them into new countries and how to return them to their home countries. The Swiss diplomat who helped negotiate the pact, Pietro Mona, defended the accord on Nov. 12, saying it helped smaller countries such as Switzerland to better defend their interests.

EU-wide migrant policies, combined with European rights laws, have been criticized for decades for being impractical, pitting different countries against each other, and for making it easy for failed asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants to slip the net.

From 2015, the Syria conflict has pushed a surge of refugees into Europe, pressuring the long-criticized “Dublin” system to a breaking point, blunting public appetite for open borders policies, and sparking the election of politicians touting tighter immigration policies.

With the EU courts ratcheting up refugee protections in recent years, as soon as someone enters the EU, the hands of authorities are tied—which frustrates those who want to tighten the system to create “Fortress Europe.”

The EU this summer began to discuss how to set up migrant camps outside of the EU, in part to avoid having to process would-be refugees once they had come under the protection of European rights laws.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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