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WASHINGTON — Washington’s candidate to head the United Nations’ migration agency was roundly rejected Friday, coming in last behind candidates proposed by two other countries, and raising fears of retaliation from its largest donor.
Leadership of the International Organization for Migration has historically been considered all but reserved for the United States. Since its founding in 1951, all its leaders bar one, in the 1960s, have been American. But in voting at its Geneva headquarters last week, the 171 member states elected António Vitorino of Portugal as the organization’s new director general. Vitorino, 61, is a former European commissioner for justice and home affairs and former deputy prime minister in a socialist government in Portugal, where he served under António Guterres.
Jeremy Konyndyk, the former head of the U.S. government’s foreign disaster relief efforts during the Obama administration and a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, argued in a statement that the result represented a rejection of “the Trump administration’s own views on migration — attacking fundamental asylum rights in the United States, banning travel from numerous Muslim-majority countries, devastating refugee resettlement, and most notoriously, separating undocumented migrant children from their parents.”
Characterizing the election result as a “stinging rebuke” to Washington, Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at CGD, stated, “I would be very surprised if the United States did not take some retaliation” against IOM.