Amy Pope: trusted Obama aide set to revamp UN's migration efforts

·3-min read
Amy Pope won the contest to become the director general of the International Organization for Migration
Amy Pope won the contest to become the director general of the International Organization for Migration

Amy Pope, who on Monday was the first woman ever elected to lead the UN migration agency, made her name in the administration of former US president Barack Obama.

Having worked on cross-border and homeland security in Obama's White House, she became President Joe Biden's top migration advisor before joining the International Organization for Migration.

The 49-year-old US lawyer has only been at the IOM since September 2021 as one of the UN agency's two deputy directors -- but took the bold decision to run against her boss Antonio Vitorino, who was seeking a second five-year term.

She acknowledged to AFP in March that it was "a bit awkward" challenging her boss, but insisted the move was "about the future of the organisation".

Her pitch to take the IOM in a new direction by increasing its visibility, communication and responsiveness to 21st-century migration drivers such as climate change paid off, winning the confidence of most of the organisation's 175 member states.

She did so well in a first round of voting Monday that Vitorino bowed to her lead and withdrew from the contest.

"It's really an extraordinary day," she told journalists after the vote, laying out her plans for a more "comprehensive" approach to the massive task of helping the world's migrants.

"With the impacts of conflicts and poverty and climate change, there will be even more work that we can do."

- 'Flip the conversation' -

Pope has called climate change "one of the most significant challenges for our generation".

And she argues the IOM should do far more to leverage its massive amounts of data to detect and address problems before they spark large migration flows.

"We need to flip the conversation," Pope said in the AFP interview. "We can and we should begin to do interventions on the front end."

Pope also called for a more constructive approach to addressing rampant anti-migrant sentiment seen in many countries.

The IOM should focus on telling stories "humanising" the people in need, she said, but also "telling the good news stories of migration".

- 'Transformative -

Pope, who will take the IOM reins on October 1, is currently the organisation's deputy director general for management and reform.

Her roles include supervising ethics, staff security, financial management, human resources, information technology and legal affairs.

The married mother of two daughters, who graduated from Duke University School of Law in North Carolina, has spent most of her career focused on migration issues.

IOM describes her as "a transformative leader in international migration policy with demonstrated experience improving complex organisations".

Pope was Biden's senior advisor on migration after he took office in 2021, having served under Obama as senior director on trans-border security (2013-2015) and then deputy homeland security advisor (2015-2017).

She came up with strategies for the White House on managing migration surges, human trafficking and responding to Zika and Ebola outbreaks. Pope has also worked with the Chatham House international affairs think-tank in London.

As the campaign ramped up last week, Biden weighed in, saying that from his experience working directly with Pope, he knew she could "effectively mobilise IOM and its members to respond to rising migration challenges, including the impacts of a changing climate."

"She is the right person for the job."