Tuesday, January 23rd 2018


• About Albert Cohen •


Albert Cohen (Corfu 1895 – Geneva 1981)

Albert Cohen, a lawyer, international civil servant and writer, very early on understood the importance of the spoken and written word, particularly in working for the observance of rights relating to human beings. When he was five he left the island of Corfu where he was born, and together with his parents emigrated to France, to Marseille where at the age of ten he experienced the rejection and humiliation suffered by a foreigner. These wounds fed into the literary and diplomatic work which he performed in London first, and then in Geneva. Albert Cohen “the diplomat” is far less familiar to the general public. However, his contribution in this sphere was just as great as what he achieved as the author of Book of My Mother and Belle du Seigneur (Her Lover), for which he was awarded received the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française in 1968). Based in London and attached to the diplomatic division of the International Labor Organization in Geneva, he was legal advisor to the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees. In this capacity, he was given the remit to draw up the International Accord of October 15, 1946 pertaining to the protection of refugees, and notably the issuing of a travel document for refugees. This text was subsumed in the International Convention relating to the Status of Refugees adopted in Geneva on July 28, 1951, and is still in force today. The “quasi–luxurious” looking passport, which inspires the respect due to its bearer, was a real reason for Cohen to be proud of his achievement. This commitment to the fair implementation of the law for all, including foreigners who were the most vulnerable category, had already been expressed in such autobiographical works as: “Oh you, fellow human beings” (1972) and “Notebooks 78 (1979).

Extracts from the International Organization for Refugees conference (Geneva, January 1949)


Presentation to the Eligibility and Protection Commission. (Appendix to the Report.)

M. Albert Cohen, Director of the Protection Division

You are of course aware that under the terms of Article 2 of its bylaws, the IRO must guarantee the legal and political protection of refugees who fall within its domain. (…)

When the refugee is stateless, de jure or de facto (which is most often the case), he is subject to three handicaps:

The first handicap (…) derives from what the refugee is everywhere, wherever he is – a foreigner (and this is a condition which intrinsically always involves disadvantages). He does not have the ultimate recourse which is always available to the “normal” foreigner: to return to his native country. (…)

Second handicap: Not only is the refugee a foreigner everywhere, but in addition he is an unprotected foreigner. Unlike foreigners from a national State, he cannot have recourse to diplomatic and consular protection. There is no government behind him. Behind him, there is not the force, invisible and powerful, of a national collectivity. He is not one atom in a large social body. He is an ‘isolated individual' (…) 

Third handicap: This man, who is a foreigner everywhere – an unprotected foreigner, is most often a wretch, a human wreck. He lives under especially difficult physical and mental conditions. (…) He has no resources, and is unable to apply for various forms of assistance that a State provides for its nationals. In the past, he has personally experienced painful times. He has often suffered the loss of close family members. Sometimes he is the target of the suspicion and scorn that are so easily targeted at helpless and hapless foreigners. It is an undeniable fact of group psychology that the behavior of a native community differs depending on (…)

“If there is one human being who needs protection, it is truly the refugee. We are not a State…but everything that we can do, we shall do.”

Albert Cohen

Mémoire Albert Cohen Foundation © 2008 | Powered by : mDev | Hosting : Bluehosting