Refugees International’s 2023 Advocacy Awards: Celebrating Vital Contributions of Refugees

Refugees International’s annual Advocacy Awards brings together passionate defenders of refugees and celebrates the tireless efforts of refugee leaders and civil society activists who dedicate themselves to humanitarian causes. The event raises funds to support our shared work to advance the rights and safety of people seeking refuge. 

This year’s dinner celebrated the rich contributions refugees and forcibly displaced people make when they can rebuild their lives in welcoming communities. Watch the event below.

About the Awardees

2023 McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award:
Ke Huy Quan

The McCall-Pierpaoli Award honors individuals who have made significant contributions to advance the rights and safety of displaced people. The award itself is named for David and Penny McCall and Yvette Pierpaoli, all three of whom died during Refugees International research travel in Albania in 1999. David and Penny McCall were philanthropists who traveled the world to see firsthand Refugees International’s work and the challenges facing refugees. Yvette was a  staff member and a great humanitarian advocate.

This year, we are awarding Refugees International’s prestigious McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award, our highest honor, to refugee and Oscar-winning actor Ke Huy Quan. After being resettled to the United States as a child, Mr. Quan became a beloved American icon through his early roles in ‘The Goonies’ and ‘Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom.’ In the years to follow, when roles for actors of diverse backgrounds were few and far between, Mr. Quan persisted in sharing his talents with the world, until in 2022 he gave his triumphant, Oscar-winning performance in the year’s Best Picture; ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.” Now, he continues to grace screens all over the world, and for one night, he will also grace our stage.

We at Refugees International were extremely moved by Mr. Quan’s powerful callback to his refugee experience at the Oscars earlier this year. Mr. Quan has shown the world what is possible as someone whose “journey started on a boat.” His story and life’s work embody the spirit of this award, the importance of welcoming refugees, and the value of ensuring pathways to pursuing passion and success are open to them as they build new lives with limitless potential.

2023 Richard C. Holbrooke Leadership Award:
South Sudan Women United

The Richard C. Holbrooke Leadership Award honors and recognizes those in local civil society who are so often the unsung heroes of displacement crises and who work tirelessly to improve community-based services for refugees. Richard C. Holbrooke was a great American statesman, a tremendous diplomat, and a true humanitarian who fought for justice through diplomacy. This is the spirit that he brought to Refugees International as Chairman of the Board from 1996-1999 and as a board member for more than a decade.

This year, we are awarding Refugees International’s prestigious Richard C. Holbrooke Leadership Award to South Sudan Women United (SSWU). SSWU is a women-led organization founded in 2014 by Ms. Nyakan J. Gile, Amb. Agnes Oswah, and Ms. Esther Sprague to respond to humanitarian crisis following South Sudan’s deadly 2013 civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

SSWU envisions a unified, peaceful, and prosperous South Sudan where all citizens enjoy freedom, justice, equal citizenship, and the protection of human rights and where diversity is honored as it represents the cultures and traditions that make South Sudan unique. Since neighboring Sudan erupted into a civil war of its own in April 2023, SSWU has been responding to the urgent needs of South Sudanese refugees and Sudanese people trapped in the country. SSWU has evacuated more than 10,000 South Sudanese refugees and Sudanese citizens to safety in South Sudan and other safer parts of the country. SSWU calls on individuals and organizations to support peace and reconciliation processes and to respond to the needs of survivors of conflict and violence in South Sudan and Sudan—especially women and children.

Host Committee

Committee Chairs
Joy Alferness
Kati Marton
Maureen White

Committee Members
Sarah Bacon
Sophal Ear
Elizabeth Galvin
Marianne Gimon d’Ansembourg
Elena Kvochko
Erika Lee
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
Mark Meiners
Darya Nasr
Paul Sheftel
Eileen Shields-West
Liz Stern
Jeff Tindell

Featured artwork: “Life Scenery” by artist and former refugee from Iran Nima Javan. His work is concerned with creatures and animals that have been identified in a new world and with issues concerning life and human resistance. His art is inspired by childhood memories of Persian miniatures and carpets.