UN snubs US and picks Portuguese politician Antonio Vitorino to run IOM migration office | News | DW | 29.06.2018
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UN snubs US and picks Portuguese politician Antonio Vitorino to run IOM migration office

In a snub to the US, the UN has picked a Portuguese politician to head the International Migration Office (IOM). It was revealed that the presumed US choice had posted negative comments about the Muslim faith.

Antonio Vitorino

Antonio Vitorino

A Portuguese politician and former EU commissioner was elected Friday to become the next director general of the UN's International Migration Agency (IOM).

Antonio Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira Vitorino was elected after member states snubbed US President Donald Trump's pick for the post: Ken Isaacs, an executive with the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse.

Isaacs was eliminated after three rounds of voting.

The closed-door election process lasted nearly five hours. Vitorino emerged victorious after fending off a challenge from current IOM deputy chief Laura Thompson of Costa Rica.

The IOM Tweeted the news.

Electing Vitorino marks a stunning repudiation of historic American control of the organization: The IOM has been led by an American throughout the agency's 67-year history with one exception from 1961 to 1969.

Trump's choice problematic

Isaacs was seen as the natural successor to incumbent William Lacy Swing, mostly because the US is the UN organization's largest funder and has been continuously fielding its director generals since the late 1960s.

US Diplomat Ken Isaacs (Getty Images/AFP/F. Coffrini)

Negative comments on the Muslim faith did not help Isaacs' candidacy

But in recent months, social media postings surfaced in which Isaacs linked adherence to the Muslim faith with a predisposition to violent extremism. Isaacs has apologized in response.

"I pledge to hold myself to the highest standards of humanity, human dignity and equality if chosen to lead IOM," he had said in a statement.

Vitorino helped by EU efforts on migration

According to sources in the room during the voting, the Portuguese national was chosen by acclamation, following a fourth round of voting that left him in the lead. However, he did not have the two-thirds majority that according to IOM rules is required to claim victory.

Diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the 61-year-old Vitorino's bid has been helped by the European Union's painstaking efforts to forge a common response to migration challenges and the strategic advantage of having one of their own as the IOM chief.

Trump's hardline stance on migration — from the so-called Muslim ban to his "zero tolerance" policy on the southern US border that led to separating parents and children — undermined Washington's traditional right to choose the world's top migration official.

Trump has also levelled ferocious attacks against multilateral bodies and also undermined the IOM's core global function which is refugee resettlement.

Some analysts had warned that voters might pick Isaacs to avoid damaging US funding cuts, but Trump's posture on migration and Isaacs's personal history of making anti-Muslim comments on social media appeared to sway the room

The handover will take place on October 1. 

av/jm (DPA, AP, AFP)   

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