US candidate Amy Pope wins tense contest to run UN migration agency

FILE PHOTO: Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Antonio Vitorino visits border checkpoint in Medyka

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) -Former White House adviser Amy Pope was elected to head the U.N. migration agency, prevailing on Monday in a tense contest against a Portuguese incumbent who had the support of European countries.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Pope would become the first woman to lead it when she begins her five-year term on Oct. 1.

Pope, who served as Deputy Director General for Management and Reform at IOM, took leave to campaign against her boss António Vitorino, who has been in the position since 2018.

"With the impacts of conflict, of poverty, of climate change, there will be even more work than we can do in order for us to be a successful organization," Pope said.

"It's important that we look at the issue of migration from a much more comprehensive point of view, that we use our data much more proactively."

Pope said she was eager for IOM to use data to analyse why people were moving and to better understand where people might be forced to move.

More than 100 million people are forcibly displaced around the world and IOM seeks to ensure humane and orderly migration and intervenes where needed.

In 2021, Pope served as senior adviser on migration to U.S. President Joe Biden, who publicly backed her candidacy.

"As IOM's largest bilateral donor, the United States strongly supports Ms. Pope's vision and looks forward to working with her to implement the critical reforms necessary to create a more effective, inclusive IOM," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Vitorino, a former European Commissioner who is close to his compatriot United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, did not comment as he left the International Conference Center in Geneva, where the voting took place.

"It's not about what he did or didn't do," Pope said about her campaign against Vitorino.

"It's more about what we can do and what opportunities might exist for us that we have yet to take."

Asked about the contest earlier this year, Vitorino described it as unprecedented.

"We have never happened to have an incumbent director general that faces a competition with one of his deputy generals. Let's call it an innovation," Vitorino told journalists in March.

He said at the time he had Portugal's backing as well as the "strong encouragement" of the European Union.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Washington; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean and Bill Berkrot)