Former Portuguese politician Antonio Vitorino was elected as chief of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Friday in Geneva, as the U.S. failed to secure this UN leadership post for the first time in five decades.
The social democrat was chosen to lead the advocacy and aid organisation for economic migrants after a race in which U.S. hopeful Ken Isaacs was forced to apologise for anti-Muslim online comments earlier in the year.
The vote by delegates from among more than 160 IOM member countries came only days after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries.
Washington’s migration policies were also in the spotlight in recent weeks as U.S. authorities separated irregular migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.
Vitorino, 61, served in the EU executive as the European commissioner for justice and home affairs until 2004, and as Portuguese defence minister in the 1990s.
He has since worked as a lawyer, headed a think tank and provided commentary on public television.
Vitorino won after several rounds of voting in which Isaacs and the third candidate, the Costa Rican IOM deputy chief Laura Thomson, were eliminated.
Isaacs had been seen as the natural successor to incumbent William Lacy Swing, given that the US is the UN organisation’s largest funder and has been continuously fielding its director generals since the late 1960s.
Isaacs is known a seasoned humanitarian manager who has been serving as programme chief of the Evangelical Christian aid group Samaritan’s Purse.
However, social media postings surfaced in recent months in which Isaacs linked adherence to the Muslim faith with a predisposition to violent extremism.
Isaacs had apologised in response.
“I pledge to hold myself to the highest standards of humanity, human dignity and equality if chosen to lead IOM,” he had said in a statement.
The IOM is an advocacy and humanitarian organisation that mainly helps economic migrants and monitors migration flows.
Founded in 1951, it currently has more than 10,000 staff in more than 150 countries.