UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday announced the appointment of Italian diplomat Filippo
Grandi as the new UN refugee chief, tasked with handling the world's worst refugee crisis.
The 58-year-old diplomat will replace Antonio Guterres, of Portugal, who was UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 2005, a UN statement said.
Grandi, who will take up the job on January 1, beat out former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and German Achim Steiner, the director of the UN Environment Program, for the key appointment.
Thorning-Schmidt had lobbied for the job since stepping down in June and in a written statement expressed her disappointment.
“First and foremost I want to congratulate Filippo Grandi. UN’s secretary general has chosen to appoint a high-ranking UN diplomat with a long carrier within the UN and the UNHCR and a deep knowledge of the UN’s work with refugees,” she said.
“I am naturally disappointed that it didn’t happen. I still believe that I have somthing to offer in relation to the tasks the UNHCR must solve in the coming years,” Thorning-Schmidt added.
Denmark's restrictive policies on refugees were cited as weighing against the former PM, but she defended the tightened refugee rules she implemented while in office.
“I fully stand behind the restrictions that were carried out under my government. I believe that most people can see that they were right,” Thorning-Schmidt said.
There were also concerns about representation given that a Danish national, Michael Møller, heads the UN office in Geneva.
The choice of Grandi was seen as a nod to Italy, which has been hard-hit by the refugee crisis in Europe, but also as recognition of Grandi's work in several tough UN positions. Among those was his challenging work as head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA from 2010 to 2014, a post he held after serving as its number two from 2005 to 2010.
His appointment is expected to be endorsed next week by the UN General Assembly, a move widely seen as a formality.
Guterres is due to step down at the end of the year after overseeing efforts to help 60 million people worldwide who have been driven from their homes by wars and persecution.
UNHCR has said that number marks an all-time high, surpassing the 50 million people who were displaced during World War 2.