Italian diplomat Filippo Grandi is to head the UN refugee agency, succeeding Antonio Guterres. The appointment is a defeat for Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former leader of migrant-restrictive Denmark.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday appointed Grandi as the new UN refugee chief, tasked with handling the world’s largest ever set of refugee crises, according to a UN press office statement.
Sources at the UN in New York said Ban’s choice was unlikely to encounter resistance during a vote by the 193-member UN General Assembly next week.
They said the choice was a nod to Italy which has been hard-hit by refugee inflows into Europe via the Middle East and northern Africa.
Denmark’s drafting of some of Europe’s most restrictive immigration policies had counted against Thorning-Schmidt. Since losing her post as Danish premier in June, the Social Democrat had lobbied for the top UNHCR job.
A Western diplomat quoted by Reuters said Ban, who backed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee-friendly policies, did not want to be “seen supporting the kinds of policies that Denmark and other European countries are pushing.”
Two other candidates were Achim Steiner, the German-Brazilian head of the UN Environment Program and Jasmine Whitbread, the British-Swiss head of Save the Children.
Experience in tough posts
Grandi (pictured top of page), who is to head the UNHCR from January, has already held several tough UN positions, including heading the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA between 2010 and 2014.
In Afghanistan, Grandi was deputy envoy to the UN aid mission and regional chief of mission for the UNHCR.
He was also involved in UNHCR efforts in Sudan, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Former Portuguese Prime Minister Guterres has been UN High Commissioner for Refugees since 2005.
He is due to step down in December after a dramatic year in overseeing UNHCR efforts worldwide to assist 60 million people driven from their homes by persecution and warfare.
Earlier this year, the UN agency said that total marked an all-time high, surpassing the 50 million who were displaced during World War Two.
During Europe’s encroaching winter months, the UNHCR expects refugees and migrants to continue arriving in Europe at a rate of up to 5,000 per day.
In September, Guterres had urged Europe to adopt a common solution requiring “investment, a mobilisation of resources and political determination that until now has been lacking.”
Most are fleeing the civil war in Syria as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.
ipj/jil (Reuters, AFP)