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United Nations

UN snubs Donald Trump’s pick for migration agency – only the second time since 1951 it won’t be run by an American

Former European Union commissioner Antonio Vitorino wins election to be next director general of International Organisation for Migration

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 11:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2018, 2:09am

The UN’s migration agency snubbed the Trump administration’s candidate to lead it on Friday, a major blow to US leadership of a body addressing one of the world’s most pressing issues – and only the second time that it will not be run by an American since 1951.

Portuguese Socialist and former European Union commissioner Antonio Vitorino won an election to be the next director general of the International Organisation for Migration, edging out both a top IOM official and the US candidate, Ken Isaacs, the agency announced in a statement.

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Vitorino, 61, will become just the group’s second director general not from the US since the intergovernmental organisation was founded.

He is a former EU commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs and is considered very close to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, also a Portuguese Socialist early in his political career.

Isaacs, a longtime executive with humanitarian and development organisations, was eliminated in early rounds of voting, and Vitorino won by acclamation over runner-up Laura Thompson of Costa Rica, now an IOM deputy director general who was vying to become the first woman to lead the agency.

The move marks a searing rejection of the US candidate just as the Trump administration has been retreating from or rebuffing international institutions – including two others based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Earlier this month, the United States pulled out of the UN’s Human Rights Council, and Trump has recently criticised the World Trade Organisation as “unfair” to the US.

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“Yet another sign that US power, authority and prestige has been so dramatically diminished,” tweeted Keith Harper, who was the Obama administration’s ambassador to the rights council. The “IOM Director is seen as an ‘American seat’ and Trump was unable to place an American in it”.

Isaacs’ candidacy had been clouded by US policies like travel bans and migrant family separations – and his own comments that critics have called anti-Muslim.

An intergovernmental body that became a UN-related agency in 2016, IOM has had only one director general who was not American since its creation.

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IOM has more than 10,000 staffers in offices in more than 150 countries. Its work has been pivotal in providing humanitarian aid to migrants, and in helping to track deaths of migrants across often deadly Mediterranean waters between northern Africa and Europe.

It also helps to resettle migrants accepted by foreign countries – and at times return them home.