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UN migration agency rejects Trump's nominee

Fabrice Coffrini, AFP | Ken Isaacs, the US candidate to head the IOM, looks on during a press briefing on March 19, 2018, in Geneva.
3 min

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN's migration agency, has rejected the Trump administration's proposed candidate to lead it, marking only the second time the body won't be run by an American since 1951.


Portugal’s Antonio Vitorino, a Socialist and a former European Union commissioner, won the race to be the next director-general, edging out both a top IOM official and US candidate Ken Isaacs, the body said in a statement.

Vitorino, 61, is a former EU commissioner for Home and Justice Affairs who has been president of the "Notre Europe" think tank for the last seven years. He is considered very close to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, also a Portuguese Socialist early in his political career.

Isaacs was eliminated in early rounds of voting, and Vitorino won by acclamation over runner-up Laura Thompson of Costa Rica, currently an IOM deputy director-general who was vying to become the agency's first woman chief.

US prestige 'dramatically diminished'

The move marks a searing rejection of the US candidate just as the Trump administration has been retreating from or rebuffing international institutions. Earlier this month, Washington pulled out of the UN's Human Rights Council, and President Donald Trump has recently criticized the World Trade Organization as "unfair" to the US.

"Yet another sign that US power, authority and prestige has been so dramatically diminished," tweeted Keith Harper, who was the Obama administration's ambassador to the rights council. The "IOM Director is seen as an 'American seat' and Trump was unable to place an American in it."

The US State Department congratulated Vitorino, calling the vote "a very competitive election with three highly qualified candidates."

"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," it said in a statement.

Tweet controversy

Isaacs, the vice-president of US evangelical charity Samaritan’s Purse, had caused controversy after being forced to apologise for tweets and social media posts in which he disparaged Muslims.

In February 2018, The Washington Post uncovered a series of tweets in which Isaacs appeared to equate Islam with violence. In May 2017, he shared a link to an article saying that Islam was not a peaceful religion, adding that “Muslims fast, they also blast”. In November 2015, he tweeted: “If Islam is a peaceful religion lets see 2 million Muslims march on Nat Mall condemning jihad, terrorism, & stand for USA.”

Isaacs also caused controversy by suggesting that Christian refugees should be prioritised. At the height of the Syrian migrant crisis in autumn 2015, he tweeted: “Refugees are 2 grps [sic]. Some may go back and some can't return. Christians can never return.”


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