Ken Isaacs, Trump's nominee, is fond of anti-Muslim Tweets and thinks Austria and Switzerland should build a wall to keep out migrants. But he'll almost certainly get the job—and that's where the problem liesby Steve Bloomfield / May 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
The International Organisation for Migration is, as the name suggests, a global body that promotes migration. In the age of Trump, the IOM is more important than ever. Which is why it’s more than a little problematic that the likely next head of the IOM, nominated for the role by Donald Trump, has a long history of sharing anti-Islamic and anti-migrant tweets.
Ken Isaacs has suggested that Austria and Switzerland build a wall across the Alps to keep out refugees, claimed that Islam is “not peaceful” and has also used Twitter to promote a host of conspiracy theories.
But it’s just a nomination, right? Surely those who make the appointment will go for someone who supports migrants, isn’t prejudiced towards many of them based on their religion, and who makes decisions based on actual facts rather than “alternative facts.”
This is where we hit a broader problem—one that affects how the world is governed. Very few of the major international jobs are awarded to the right candidate. Many of them are instead doled out to someone from the right country.
An American has always run the World Bank; a European has always been the head of the International Monetary Fund. One of the top UN jobs always has to go to a Brit—for the past decade or so, it’s been the office of humanitarian affairs regardless of whether the candidate has the requisite experience or not (Sir John Holmes, for instance, had just been the UK ambassador to France; hardly the most useful training for a job that involved negotiating humanitarian access in Darfur).
The IOM job is reserved for someone Made in America, which means that whoever the US president picks is going to get the job. Technically, there’s an election—but the American always wins.
For the past decade it’s been William Lacy Swing, an octogenarian diplomat who spent more than 20 years as a US ambassador in the developing world. He has called migration a right that should not just be limited to the global elite. He has called on the EU to open its borders, warning that migration from the poorest nations to the richest is “inevitable”. In short, he has been the right man for the job, regardless of his nationality. (Lacy Swing was nominated by George W Bush, but before you start thinking better of the 43rdUS president remember that he also chose the architect of the Iraq War, Paul Wolfowitz, to head up the World Bank.)
The decline of the West and the rise of Asia, particularly China, means that these Western quid pro quos won’t survive much longer. The danger, though, is that they’re simply replaced by a new arrangement that guarantees a post or two for Chinese and Indian diplomats.
There is, of course, a better way forward; one so radical that it’s the way every organisation in the world claims it operates: hire the best person for the job, regardless of which country they come from. And for the IOM, that should mean this: for the first time in its history, the organisation’s director general should be someone from a nation that is affected by migration—either a nation where large numbers of people are leaving, or one where they are struggling to cope with people arriving. If the organisation wanted to be even more revolutionary they could appoint an actual migrant.
Instead, when the IOM’s members meet next month to vote, we’re going to be stuck with Isaacs—a man whose sympathies lie with bigots, not immigrants—in charge of an organisation desperately in need of a leader who sees migrants for what they are: ordinary people trying to deal the best they can with extraordinary circumstances.