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US candidate Amy Pope to head UN migration agency

May 15, 2023

Amy Pope was elected head of the International Organization for Migration in a contest that saw the US pitted against Europe.

Amy Pope speaks to the media
US lawyer Amy Pope has spent most of her career focused on migration issuesImage: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Amy Pope of the United States will be the next International Organization for Migration (IOM) director general after beating her boss Antonio Vitorino in a leadership vote on Monday.

Pope will be the first woman to lead the United Nations migration agency dedicated to assisting migrants and will take up the position from October 1.

Her election comes after an unusually acrimonious leadership battle that pitted the United States against its European allies.

On Monday, she won the first round of voting but was 12 votes shy of reaching the two-thirds majority needed to declare victory.  Vitorino decided to bow out of the race.

Rivalry between the US and Europe

Vitorino was only the second non-American to hold the top job since the agency was founded over 70 years ago.

"As IOM's largest bilateral donor, the United States strongly supports Ms. Pope's vision and looks forward to working with her to implement the critical reforms necessary to create a more effective, inclusive IOM," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Vitorino enjoyed particularly strong support from European countries. One diplomat said "it was a bit of a shock,"  when Pope announced her candidacy in October.

"I am ready to work with ALL our member states and global partners to unleash the opportunities provided by effective, orderly and humane migration," Pope wrote on Twitter.

Who is  Amy Pope?

Amy Pope is a US lawyer who has spent most of her career focused on migration issues, including within the administration of former US president Barack Obama.

The 49-year-old was also US President Joe Biden's senior advisor on migration after he took office in 2021. Prior to that, between 2015 and 2017 she was the deputy homeland security advisor.

Pope has also worked with the Chatham House international affairs think-tank in London. She began working at the IOM from September 2021.

Afghan refugees carrying free aid distributed by the IOM
Over 100 million people are currently facing forced displacement across the worldImage: HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP/Getty Images

Last year, after she announced her campaign, Pope took unpaid leave from IOM and focused on the fighting for her position as chief.

She said that while it is a "bit awkward" for her run against her boss, she said the agency needed a new vision.

"We're still kind of stuck in old ways of looking at migration," said Pope, calling for a broader focus on the impacts of climate change on migration.

Growing pressure on the IOM 

The IOM was founded in 1951 to handle the displacements in Europe following World War II, but only became a UN agency seven years ago.

Over 100 million people are currently facing forced displacement across the world. The IOM seeks to ensure humane and orderly migration and intervene in emergencies to help the vulnerable.

The organization has nearly 19,000 staff members working in 171 countries to promote "humane and orderly" migration.

lo, ns/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)