He is European. She is American. She heads the UN migration agency. She wants her job.
The director general of the International Organization for Migration, Antonio Vitorino of Portugal, faces what could be a close race against his Biden administration-backed deputy, Amy Pope, as member countries of the Geneva-based agency choose your boss for the next five years on Monday.
The election comes as immigrants have been on the move like never before, driven from their homes by factors including conflict, economic hardship and the growing impacts of climate change.
The US and the European Union, both major funders of IOM, face challenges with migration. Critics blame the EU for not doing more to prevent the often deadly journeys of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe by boat. The UN refugee agency and others have raised concerns about how changes to US immigration law will affect people trying to cross the Mexican border into the United States.
But the IOM, which has 175 member countries, is also grappling with massive migration crises far beyond, in places as diverse as Bangladesh, Ukraine, Sudan and among Venezuela’s neighbors in Latin America.
The organization has nearly 19,000 employees working in 171 countries to promote “humane and orderly” migration.
Their job in many of their 560 field offices around the world is to provide support—food, water, shelter, and help with government-imposed paperwork—to migrants. The agency also collects and shares vast amounts of data on the flows of people to governments and advises them on policy decisions.
To win under IOM rules, a candidate must win the votes of two-thirds of the countries casting ballots behind closed doors. The tradition has been for IOM chiefs to get a second term, but Vitorino has not won the support of the 27 member countries of the European Union.
Vitorino took office in 2018 after IOM member countries rejected a candidate put forward by the Trump administration, which removed the US.
Vitorino is a former EU Commissioner for Home Affairs and Justice and head of a think tank, who got an early start in politics as a Portuguese socialist, like UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Supporters credit Vitorino for doing more to recruit and promote women within IOM, improve dialogue with African countries, and help win contributions that saw his budget grow nearly 20% between 2019 and 2021, to $2,500. million, and staffing levels increased nearly 40% from 2019 to last year.
The US administration has bet on the candidacy of Pope, a former immigration adviser to President Joe Biden. He’s trying to win the job back for the US: Eight of IOM’s 10 directors-general since the agency’s founding 72 years ago have been American.
Pope, IOM’s deputy director for reform and management, is vying to become the agency’s first female head. She is a former prosecutor and most of her career was spent working for the United States government.
She has touted her role in pushing through a budget reform that attracted a commitment of $75 million from governments to improve field delivery and risk management. Her sponsors say more changes are needed to help IOM adapt to the growing challenges of migration and diversify funding sources.
Under Biden, the United States has sought greater engagement with the United Nations and is trying to place Americans in top UN jobs.
Last fall, Doreen Bogdan-Martin defeated a Russian rival to take the top job at the International Telecommunication Union, replacing her Chinese boss. This year, Cindy McCain, the widow of former presidential candidate John McCain, became director of the UN World Food Program.
Both candidates for the IOM post have increased foreign travel, media appearances and social media postings in recent months. Pope jumped into the race months before Vitorino, who let the suspense linger until Portugal announced its re-election bid late last year.