New UN migration chief worried boat deaths becoming "normalised"

Pope director general of the IOM attends a news conference in Geneva
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GENEVA (Reuters) -The new head of the U.N. migration agency on Monday voiced concern that deaths in the Mediterranean were being "normalised" and vowed to work with governments to provide options for economic migration to help address the crisis.

U.S. former White House adviser Amy Pope started as head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Oct. 1 at a time of record forced displacement around the world and high political tensions over irregular immigration.

In recent days, an Italian minister and billionaire Elon Musk have criticised Germany for backing charities helping distressed migrants on the world's most dangerous route, the Mediterranean, where 22,000 people have died or gone missing since 2014. Germany's foreign ministry defended its policies.

Asked to comment on the debate, Pope said: "Our biggest concern is that the deaths in the Mediterranean have been normalised and that people take for granted that this is just a cost of human movement."

"If we're really going to stop people crossing the Mediterranean on rickety boats and dying as they do so, we need to approach the situation far more comprehensively," she said. She declined to comment directly on Musk's remarks.

Pope, who wants to build partnerships with private companies to better manage migration, won a tense election in May against her then-boss, becoming the first female head of the U.N. agency since it was created in 1951. The IOM seeks to ensure humane and orderly migration and intervenes where needed.

In her first press conference, she vowed to work with countries that want to renew their labour forces like Spain.

"The evidence is fairly overwhelming that migration actually benefits economies," she said, saying this was especially true in wealthy countries with ageing populations and low birth rates.

Pope said her first trip would be to east Africa to meet the African Union Commission in Ethiopia and then to Brussels where she will meet senior European officials as they search for a deal on handling irregular migration.

In the absence of a long-stalled EU deal on sharing out asylum seekers reaching Europe, civil society groups say that it has become commonplace for authorities to illegally force them back over the border they entered from outside the bloc.

There were nearly 10,000 incidents of migrants been pushed back forcibly over EU borders - either on land or on water - between May-August, a Danish Refugee Council report showed on Monday.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)