Former Danish PM Nominated to Head UN Refugee Agency

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Sept. 4, 2015 –  Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was nominated by her government on Friday as a candidate to succeed Portugal’s Antonio Guterres as head of the UN refugee agency. Guterres, also a former prime minister, has headed the agency since 2005 and was nominated unopposed by Ban Ki-moon for a second term in 2010.

His successor will be elected by the General Assembly in the fall.

Thorning-Schmidt would be the eleventh high commissioner for refugees and the second woman to head the world refugee agency since its inception in 1950. The agency, with almost 10,000 staff members, works in 123 countries responding to a growing global refugee crisis. Japan’s Sadako Ogata was the first female high commissioner for refugees. She served from 1991-2001.

There are currently 60 million refugees around the world, a figure which includes 40 million displaced inside their own borders and five million Palestinian refugees, whose welfare is handled by a separate agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Syria overtook Afghanistan this year as the world’s biggest source country for refugees with more than four million having fled the country – 3.7 million of whom are hosted in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – in addition to almost eight million displaced inside their own borders. Afghanistan, for long the world’s biggest source country, has the second highest number of refugees residing outside its borders at 2.6 million – mostly hosted in Iran and Pakistan, followed by Somalia, with 1.1 million refugees who are mostly residing in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Thorning-Schmidt served as her country’s prime minister from October 2011 until June this year and was Denmark’s first female premier. She was a member of the European parliament from 1999-2004 and in 2005 succeeded Mogens Lykketoft as leader of Denmark’s Social Democrats party. Lykketoft has since been elected as president of the 70th UN General Assembly and will assume his post this month. Thorning-Schmidt is daughter-in-law of the former leader of the British Labour party, Neil Kinnock.

During her time as prime minister, she rolled back anti-immigration policies put in place by her predecessor including eliminating the immigration and integration ministry although she was criticized during her 2015 campaign for prime minister – which her party lost to an anti-immigration coalition – for taking a tough stance on immigration saying immigrants and refugees must learn Danish and must work. During Thorning-Schmidt’s tenure time in office the number of asylum seekers and refugees in Denmark more than doubled and she proposed sending people back to their home countries if the situation permitted.

She made global headlines in 2013 when she posed for a selfie with US President Barack Obama during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

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Eight of the 10 previous high commissioners for refugees have been Europeans including Thorning-Schmidt’s fellow Dane, Poul Hartling, who served from 1978-1985 and collected a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the agency in 1981. While senior UN positions are ostensibly open to nominations from all member states, the top posts tend to be divided among the permanent members of the Security Council and major donor countries.

Having missed out on the top humanitarian job, which a Norwegian and Swede held in the past, there’s a view among Danish diplomats that the refugee chief job should go to a Scandinavian.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Updated to reflect Thorning-Schmidt would be only second ever female high-commissioner in 65 years.

Early UNSC Challenge for Newcomers Jordan and Lithuania, a Female Presidency Three-Peat and World Cup Draw Produces Council Battles

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Jordan’s FM Nasser Judeh congratulated following his country’s election to a two-year term on the Security Council. (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

Dec. 6, 2013 – Jordan’s election to a two-year term on the Security Council on Friday sees them with less than a month to get ready to assume the council’s presidency on January 1 when the Hashemite Kingdom, filling the spot vacated by Saudi Arabia in October, takes over the alphabetically rotating mantle from current holders France.

Jordan’s UN ambassador, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, served with the United Nations Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s and was also a candidate for secretary-general in 2006.

Lithuania, the first Baltic country to be elected to a non-permanent seat on the 15-nation body, take over the reins on February 1.

The country’s UN ambassador, Raimonda Murmokaite, will preside over the beginning of an unprecedented three-month span when the council will be headed by female ambassadors. Her presidency will be followed by that of Luxembourg’s Sylvie Lucas in March who will be succeeded by Nigeria’s Joy Ugwu in April. Two other current council members are represented by female ambassadors, permanent member United States, represented by Samantha Power, and non-permanent member Argentina, represented by Maria Perceval.

Meanwhile, the 2014 World Cup draw on Friday saw eight current council members, along with the UK’s England, discover their fate in the group stages of the Brazil-hosted finals which begins in June. Non-permanent members Australia and Chile will battle in out in Group B alongside powerhouses Spain and the Netherlands, who contested the 2010 final.

Group F sees fellow non-permanent council members Argentina and Nigeria up against Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the latter are also both on the Security Council’s agenda.

Russia finds itself pitted against another non-permanent member, South Korea in Group H, along with Algeria and Belgium. England face Costa Rica, Italy and Uruguay in Group D, while France are up against Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland in Group E and Group G sees the US face Germany, Ghana and Portugal.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz