Refugees International Representatives Confirmed Dead

from Refugees International
Published on 19 Apr 1999
It is with deep pain that we must confirm the deaths of David B. McCall, his wife Penny McCall and Yvette Pierpaoli in a car accident Sunday on the road heading towards Kukes, Albania. Their Albanian driver was also killed. David and Penny were Board Members of Refugees International, and Yvette was RI's European Representative. The three were in Albania on a humanitarian assessment mission. They were heading from Tirana, the capital, to Kukes, the primary reception point for Kosovar refugees, when their car apparently slid off the mountain road in bad weather.
David, Penny, and Yvette gave their lives for refugees they never met, but for whom they cared deeply. Refugees International is an advocacy organization which seeks to identify failures or gaps in the refugee protection and assistance system and then presses for corrective action. David, Penny and Yvette had made numerous such missions in the past, including a humanitarian assessment mission to Albania last June. This time, a part of their mission was to explore the possibility of providing region-wide help through radio broadcasts to refugees seeking to locate missing family members. The widespread separation of families is a problem with profound human consequences, and David, Penny, and Yvette wanted it solved as quickly as possible. It was not the first time these three took matters into their own hands for refugees around the world. David, Penny and Yvette personally brought water pumps, sought to improve the system for clearing land mines and provided basic assistance for refugees in Thailand, Cambodia, and numerous countries in Africa. Their humanity was deep, abiding and selfless, and inspired us all. We will miss them terribly.

From: Refugees International Board of Directors

April 19, 1999

David and Penny McCall and Yvette Pierpaoli died as they had lived: On a mission to help people in need. The initial reports referred to David and Penny as "two American aid workers." They would have liked that. As highly successful and secure Americans, they could have lived a comfortable life surrounded by their family and their many friends in the New York area and around the world. Instead, they chose repeatedly to risk their lives in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Balkans to increase public awareness of the plight of people less fortunate than them, to find ways to deal with the landmine problem, and to educate people.

Yvette was - there is simply no other way to put it - among the best in the world. A legend in the international refugee community, her energy and enthusiasm carried people along with her. Time and time again, she made the impossible happen.

David, Penny and Yvette were on a mission for Refugees International when they died. The Board of Refugees International had already asked David to succeed me as Chairman, and he would have been magnificent in that position. Their generosity and courage will not be forgotten.

Richard Holbrooke, Chairman

Yvette Pierpaoli

RI's European representative represents our advocacy interests in France and the larger European community. During her seven years of work with Refugees International, Yvette undertook humanitarian missions to many countries in Asia and Africa, especially Cambodia, Mali, and Niger.

At 19 years old, Yvette left France and lived in Cambodia for many years until she was forced to flee by the Khmer Rouge takeover in the 1970s. Thereafter, she lived in Bangkok, combining the management of her import-export business with humanitarian work. At great personal risk, she scoured the Thai-Cambodian border for survivors after the Thai government pushed back Cambodian refugees attempting to find safety in Thailand.

Yvette founded Tomorrow, a non profit foundation, in the 1980s and opened centers for street children in Guatemala and Bolivia. She authored an autobiography titled Femme aux Mille Enfants.

Yvette began working for Refugees International in 1992. She was distinguished by her work with small, grassroots organizations striving to make a difference in the lives of the most disadvantaged people in poor societies around the world. Drawing on her Cambodian experience, she initiated many projects focused on training and assistance for war widows, land mine victims, homeless families, and street children. Often, she used the resources from her Tomorrow Foundation to provide seed money for development projects and emergency assistance.

A special interest of Yvette's was the plight of returning Tuareg refugees in the Sahara desert of Mali and Niger. She made many visits to Mali and Niger and helped begin irrigation, livestock, cultural, and food distribution projects. In her most recent visit to Niger in February 1999 she uncovered evidence of a massacre of Toubou refugees in an extremely remote region. She visited the survivors and her reporting on this incident was subsequently confirmed by the government of Niger and human rights groups.

Yvette was also a co-founder and active in the work of Info Birmanie, a European human rights organization focusing on human rights in Burma. She participated in several RI missions to Bangladesh to investigate the status of Muslim refugees who had fled persecution by the Burmese regime.

When she was not travelling on behalf of Refugees International, Yvette lived in an ancient stone house located in the village of Serviers in southern France. She is survived by a daughter, Emanuel who lives in the New York City area, and a son Olivier who lives in Paris.

Yvette previously visited Albania in June 1998 and witnessed the first refugees fleeing Kosovo. She was killed in an automobile accident on April 18, 1999 while travelling to visit newly arrived refugees in the remote Kukes region of northeastern Albania.