Portugal's Vitorino elected head of UN migration agency IOM


Portuguese politician and former EU commissioner Antonio Vitorino (pictured) beat current IOM deputy chief Laura Thompson of Costa Rica, who came in second.
Portuguese politician and former EU commissioner Antonio Vitorino (pictured) beat current IOM deputy chief Laura Thompson of Costa Rica, who came in second.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/@IOMROWCA

GENEVA (AFP) - Portuguese politician and former EU commissioner Antonio Vitorino was elected on Friday (June 29) to become the next director general of the United Nations migration agency, after member states snubbed US President Donald Trump's pick for the post.

"Antonio Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira Vitorino elected as new Director General of IOM," the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) tweeted after a closed-door election process that lasted nearly five hours.

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

But Trump's nominee Ken Isaacs, an executive with the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse who faced serious charges of anti-Muslim bigotry, proved to be an untenable choice.

Isaacs was eliminated after three rounds of voting, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the vote.

Vitorino, 61, also beat current IOM deputy chief Laura Thompson of Costa Rica, who came in second.

According to sources who were 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, but not with the two-thirds majority that according to IOM rules is required to claim victory.

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

The US president'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's "America First" administration has also levelled ferocious attacks against multilateral bodies and undermined IOM's core global function - refugee resettlement.

Analysts had warned that voters might stick with Isaacs to avoid punishing US fundings 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.

Vitorino meanwhile has some powerful connections within the UN. When he served as Portugal's minister for national defence and deputy prime minister in the mid-1990s, he served in the government of current UN chief Antonio Guterres.

Vitorino will replace veteran US diplomat William Lacy Swing, who has run IOM for the past decade and who has held senior State Department and UN posts over a career spanning half a century.

The handover will take place on Oct 1.