Trump's man snubbed as UN picks new migration boss

US Ken Isaacs speaks a press conference after beeing eliminated from the election ballot for the new president of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 28, 2018.
US Ken Isaacs speaks a press conference after beeing eliminated from the election ballot for the new president of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 28, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GENEVA (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump's nominee for the top UN migration job was roundly rejected on Friday (June 29) after a candidacy that was dogged by a history of social media posts disparaging Muslims and overshadowed by Trump's policies on migrants.

Ken Isaacs, vice president of US evangelical charity Samaritan's Purse, came last in the race to lead the International Organization for Migration (IOM), behind Costa Rica's Laura Thompson and Portugal's Antonio Vitorino, the eventual winner of the contest.

"The role of the International Organization for Migration is fundamental, it's fundamental to build bridges among countries, and countries which have different levels of economic development," Vitorino, a former European Commissioner, told reporters after his election.

Isaacs said he had congratulated Vitorino and it had been an honour to run as the US candidate. He declined to comment on why he lost the secret ballot of IOM member states.

A US State Department official said all three candidates were highly qualified.

"IOM is an important partner for the United States around the globe, and we are committed to working with IOM to address root causes of migration and to promote safe and legal migration," the official said.

The leadership race came at a crucial time for global migration politics, as Trump attracts criticism for his "zero tolerance" policy on the Mexican border and the European Union struggles to find unity on how to deal with the influx of mainly African migrants across the Mediterranean.

Isaacs' candidacy began shortly after Trump questioned why the United States would want immigrants from "shithole countries" and ended just a federal court overturned his policy of separating immigrant parents and children caught crossing the Mexican border.

The IOM job has traditionally gone to an American and the White House had strongly backed Isaacs, despite US withdrawals from other international bodies and agreements, including the UN Human Rights Council and UN talks on a wide-ranging"global compact" on migration.

Jeremy Konyndyk, senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, and like Isaacs a former director of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, said the rejection of the American candidate was "a big deal".

"IOM has been led by an American for 50 years. This reflects a huge erosion in US global standing under Trump," he wrote on Twitter.

He said the voting countries might anticipate US retaliation against IOM, such as funding cuts, if Isaacs lost.

"Yet even with that, he didn't merely lose - he flopped badly."

Keith Harper, who served as US human rights ambassador under President Barack Obama, said in a tweet that Isaacs'rejection was "yet another sign that US power, authority and prestige has been so dramatically diminished".

During the 1990s, Vitorino was a minister in the Portuguese government of Antonio Guterres, now UN Secretary General. He said they had been close friends for 40 years, even when they did not agree.