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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.”

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