Head of UN migration agency says it reaps funds, but worries about politics loom over aid groups

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the U.N. migration agency said Thursday it has taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding and diversified its donor base — an announcement that comes as aid groups have struggled to get needed money.

Results of elections worldwide, however, are also raising questions about future support, said Amy Pope, a former migration adviser to President Joe Biden who received his support for her successful campaign last year to lead the International Organization for Migration.

Pope said she’s focused on addressing all the complexities of migration — and has warned that many migrants have risked and lost their lives on perilous journeys.

“This is not about representing the Biden administration,” said Pope in an interview at IOM’s Geneva headquarters. “This is about bringing a comprehensive, 360-degree approach to the issue of migration, recognizing that narrowing it down to one slice of a migrant’s journey is a significant mistake.”

The IOM director-general said she resists attempts to “boil down the issue of migration simply to managing the border, because I think that’s a huge strategic mistake for governments that plays into some of the politics we’re seeing — leading to very, very negative consequences.”

Under Pope, IOM launched its first “global appeal” in January, seeking nearly $8 billion, part of her ambition to fund programs that prepare for migration flows ahead of time, not just react to them. Its support comes from sources as diverse as development banks and tech titan Microsoft.

Pope said “over a third of the appeal has been funded so far.” Sister U.N. groups like the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have lamented a shortfall in funds for crises like the war in Sudan — even if some rich countries have led efforts to improve it.

Pope has repeatedly talked up the benefits of migration, including the labor that migrants bring to host countries and the money that they send home, at a time when right-wing political movements in some Western countries have criticized and even demonized the newcomers.

“I think every U.N. agency is struggling with the impact of elections that are happening around the world at this moment in time,” Pope said. “There’s no guarantee that whoever comes into a position of power will have the same regard for the role that the U.N. and various multilateral institutions play.”

“So our goal is to make sure that we have a diverse set of donors” and explain IOM’s role, she added.

Some critics have raised questions about a new European Union “Migration Pact” that seeks to improve screening of migrants and deport them if necessary. They also say EU funds have gone to programs in places like Libya, where U.N. experts have denounced rights violations against migrants.

IOM would not support some projects “if they are not consistent with our protection standards,” Pope said.

“At the same time, we are a member-state organization, and one of the values I think we bring is our ability to to engage directly in dialogue with the governments,” she said. Such conversations can “hold them accountable” and give evidence to governments, and help them manage migration.

“It’s very easy to point fingers and then walk away,” Pope said. “There is a balance here that we’re constantly weighing, to make sure that we are addressing the fundamental needs of those who really don’t have anybody else who are advocating for them.”

IOM and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR cited the “fundamental” right to asylum after the Biden administration announced new restrictions for asylum-seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border.

She said UNHCR staffers are the “guardians of the right to asylum” and ensuring that countries respect those rights. “We very much take the lead of UNHCR when they’re assessing the decisions of governments on whether the asylum access is sufficient to meet those who are seeking it.”

“So our goal is not to get in the middle of that assessment,” she said. “It is their job, and we will stand with them and behind them.”

Pope is the first woman to head the IOM, and a plaque with the words “Boss Lady” sits on her desk.

IOM’s job in many of its 560 field offices is to provide migrants with food, water, shelter and help with government-imposed paperwork. It also collects and shares vast amounts of data about flows of people to governments, and advises them on policy decisions.

Nine of the 11 directors-general since IOM was founded 73 years ago have been American.

Pope is not without her critics.

Jeff Crisp, a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Center and a former UNHCR official, wrote on the X platform that Pope “seems to have taken over from David Beasley of WFP as the most publicity-hungry head of a U.N. humanitarian agency,” alluding to the former head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning World Food Program.


Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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