On Monday May 15, the 175 members of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) met in extraordinary session to elect the Director General. Two candidates were in the running, the Portuguese António Vitorino, the current Director General, and his deputy, the American Amy E. Pope. Following a first round of voting led by the American, Portugal decided to withdraw the candidacy of its national. Amy Pope thus becomes the first woman to head the United Nations agency in charge of migration. She will take up her post on October1 for a five-year term.
The race for a second term at the helm of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was supposed to be a foregone conclusion for António Vitorino, who took office on October1, 2018, but the Biden administration decided otherwise. It was obviously decided in high places to win back a post that for decades had automatically gone to the United States. And so, to the dismay of many European countries, the candidacy of the American Amy Pope, current Deputy Director General for Reform and Management, was put forward. The lobbying campaign was based on a series of promises and the use of unorthodox means, on both sides, to convince countries to vote for one candidate over the other.
Traditionally American management
From its creation in 1951 until 2018, the IOM has almost always been headed by an American national (eight out of ten). In 2018, António Vitorino, an experienced jurist, former European Commissioner and Portuguese Deputy Prime Minister, was elected over Ken Isaacs, a highly controversial candidate backed by Donald Trump. Two years before this election, IOM joined the United Nations system. The organization has nearly 19,000 employees working in 171 countries to promote "humane and orderly" migration. With a highly decentralized structure, it provides assistance to people fleeing conflict and helps migrants "on the move", as described in the 2018 UN Global Compact on Migration. The agency also collects and shares large quantities of data on people flows with governments, and advises them on policy decisions to be taken.
Friend of the UN chief
Incumbent Antonio Vitorino, 66, a former Portuguese minister, is a close friend of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. His supporters credit him with doing more to hire and promote women at IOM, improving dialogue with African countries and helping to attract contributions that have enabled the budget to grow by almost 20% between 2019 and 2021, reaching $2.5 billion. Staff numbers increased by almost 40% between 2019 and 2022. On the other hand, he was often criticized for being "old-fashioned", withdrawn and for his lack of interaction with the press.
Strong American candidate
Washington's decision to enter the IOM leadership race was carefully coordinated at the highest level of the US administration. Amy Pope, 49, was, until recently, Migration Advisor to President Biden. She was also Homeland Security Advisor to Barack Obama's National Security Council. A lawyer by training, she joined the IOM in 2021. Her role in passing a budget reform that secured a $75 million commitment from governments to improve field delivery and risk management has been praised by her supporters. They argue that further changes are needed to help IOM adapt to the growing challenges of migration and diversify funding sources. Last year, Washington easily secured the election of Doreen Bogdan-Martin as Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), against a Russian who didn't stand much of a chance after the start of the conflict in Ukraine. At the time, the candidate was able to count on the support of US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as was Amy Pope.
A two-thirds majority (110 votes) of the Board was required for victory. At the end of the first round, the votes cast by 165 member states gave Amy Pope a 98-67 lead over the outgoing DG. Two hours after this result was announced, Portugal announced the withdrawal of Antonio Vitorino's candidacy. Amy Pope thus becomes the first woman to head the International Organization for Migration. She will take office on October1 for a five-year term.