I’m from the US, but I don’t represent US immigration policies, says candidate for UN agency


The American Amy Pope, 48, current assistant director for Management and Reform of the IOM (International Organization for Migration), is trying to be elected as the new head of the UN agency.

She was in Brasília this week to defend her candidacy in meetings with Brazilian authorities. In an interview with Sheetsaid that it does not represent the migration policies of the United States and defended greater attention to internal migration flows in Africa and Latin America.

Mrs. is running for director general of the IOM against António Vitorino, who is running for re-election. Why did you enter the dispute? There is no doubt that the issue of migration —and the role that the IOM can play— is increasingly important. We can no longer just treat the symptoms, there are millions of people whose lives are at risk. The reason I run is that the status quo is not sustainable. I believe we need to move out of the 20th century and into the 21st. IOM leadership needs to be fully engaged in traveling to the places where migration is taking place, to work with the most impacted communities. We can’t do this with the old methods, we need to bring in new ideas and energy.

What are the arguments presented to the Brazilian authorities regarding your candidacy? First, putting migrants at the center of what we do. A solution that exists in one part of the world may not work in another. Second, to strengthen our relationship with Member States. Finally, our workforce is critical to success. We need to have a better representation of nationalities. We cannot be a composite organization [apenas] of Europeans. If we want to work on a global scale, we need to ensure gender equality at all levels.

How do you intend to convince the IOM countries that your administration will not be excessively focused on US migration problems? You have to look at my work within the organization. I led efforts to reform the budget [da OIM], something that had needed to be resolved for years. The way I reached consensus was to meet all Member States —talk to each geographic group—, travel to capital cities to hear different views on what was working and what wasn’t. So we reached a consensus solution.

This is the formula we need to work from. We are a global organization, it is essential that the managing director is on the ground and understands what is happening. I will be involved, I will be in the capitals and visit the places where migrants are and where they have settled.

Migration is a topic that sometimes generates friction between the US and Brazil. Is this an obstacle to asking the Lula government to vote? I do not think so. I do not represent the US government. I’m the US candidate, but I don’t represent her policies [migratórias]. I recognize that each government has the right to set its own policies and manage its borders as it sees fit. Our work at IOM is about protecting the rights and dignity of migrants.

First, we need to understand what is motivating people to leave [seus países]. What we see is that the vast majority of people who are on the move feel they have no other option. Our goal is to create options, not to say that migration is bad. In fact, migration brings tremendous benefits to both the country of origin and the country where migrants settle.

The most dangerous thing about migration is when it takes place through irregular channels, when migrants can be exploited by criminal actors. The IOM can work to create regular channels so that people who have no alternative in their places of origin have options elsewhere.

There is criticism in Latin America that the US should invest more in opportunities in the region and, therefore, discourage the migration flow. Is this a topic of your candidacy? It’s not a problem [para minha candidatura]. But I say one thing about what motivates a person to leave their place of origin. It may be that she is living in a region that has suffered a drought and where it is no longer possible to cultivate the land; it could be that she is in a very violent community and doesn’t feel safe. It may be that economic opportunities have collapsed. So we need to identify [essas razões] and deal with these pressures. When I think about it, I see that private sector investment is key. I think the private sector has a role to play in helping us achieve that goal.

What are the main scenarios in the world today that the organization must act in? There is a large focus on migration from the South to the North without understanding the migration that takes place between different regions of the South. For example, 80% of the migration taking place in Africa is within the continent itself. I think IOM has a lot of work to do in building the necessary support and capacity in Africa rather than just focusing on the migration that takes place from Africa to Europe.

When we look at Latin America, we see record numbers of people on the move. Of course this involves Venezuelans, Haitians; we’ve seen a lot of northward migration, as well as tremendous migration within countries themselves, from rural to urban areas. For me, this is an aspect that needs to be addressed with Member States, and one that I think has not received the necessary attention.

Now looking to the future. It is not possible to underestimate how much climate change will impact us. This will affect people’s most immediate opportunities. Climate change tends to increase competition for resources. So it’s important to use what we know about communities at risk and the technology that allows us to identify which communities will be displaced by climate change. It will be global, of course. It will certainly happen in Latin America, we are already seeing it happen in Africa, in islands of the Pacific. We see communities increasingly destabilized.

X-RAY | Amy Pope, 48

She is assistant director for Management and Reform at IOM and a candidate for the entity’s general management. Previously, she has held migration-related positions in Democratic administrations: she was senior adviser on migration to Joe Biden (2021), assistant adviser for homeland security (2015-17) and senior director for cross-border security (2013-15).

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