© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Antonio Vitorino visits an information booth at the border checkpoint where people are crossing the border from Ukraine to Poland, after fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukr
By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Emma Farge
GENEVA (Reuters) -European countries and the United States were running rival candidates to head the U.N. migration agency in an unusually tense contest between allies that opened in Geneva on Monday.
More than 100 million people are forcibly displaced around the world and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) seeks to ensure humane and orderly migration and intervenes where needed.
Its 175 member states took part in a first round of voting on Monday by secret ballot in closed-door meetings.
A source familiar with the proceedings said that IOM deputy director Amy Pope, a former White House adviser backed by U.S. President Joe Biden, received 98 votes, while the incumbent, António Vitorino of Portugal, received 67.
Pope announced her campaign last year and took unpaid leave from IOM to focus on it from March, tweeting pictures of herself meeting officials all over the world. She pledges to “proactively address the challenges of migration and harness its benefits” and says she will focus on its root causes.
Vitorino, a former European Commissioner who is close to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, has touted an increase in the body’s annual budget among his successes.
Asked about the contest, he admitted it was 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, who has been in the post since 2018, told journalists in March. He said he had Portugal’s backing as well as the “strong encouragement” of the European Union.
Vitorino paced outside the International Conference Center in Geneva, where the voting took place, ahead of the voting.
When asked how he was feeling, Vitorino said: “I keep my feelings to myself.”
The winning candidate must score the two-thirds majority required by the IOM constitution. Diplomats in Geneva have said that both candidates have privately told them they are confident of success.
One diplomat jokingly expressed relief that the ballot would be secret, to avoid drawing the wrath of either Brussels or Washington.
Voting could run into Tuesday, depending on the number of rounds.