News / Africa

New Mobile Service in Uganda Allows Refugees to Find Lost Family

TEXT SIZE - +
Michael Onyiego

A new mobile application is being launched Friday to help reunite families torn apart by violence and natural disaster. The new technology, being tested in Uganda, could help refugees separated for years reconnect in a matter of minutes.

Over the past 40 years, civil war and ethnic violence have been a near constant threat to peace and stability in the Great Lakes region of Africa. In recent years, more than 60,000 United Nations peacekeepers have been deployed to the border region of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the greatest concerns of these peacekeeping missions has been protecting the millions of civilians forced to flee their homes as a result of these conflicts.

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has designated more than one million as persons of concern in Uganda alone. Without a moment's notice, many refugees are forced to flee with little or nothing, leaving friends and family behind forever. While agencies such as the UN can provide food, shelter and security to refugee populations, reuniting them with loved ones often proves difficult. The sheer size of many refugee flows in the region limits the ability of refugee agencies to actively seek out lost relatives on an individual basis.

But a new mobile application is now promising to give refugees the ability to find their loved ones. In partnership with the UNHCR, Ericsson and telecom provider MTN, Denmark-based Refugees United is launching a pilot program in Uganda which will allow refugees to register and search for loved ones through an online database accessible through mobile phones.

The work of Refugees United was originally focused on integrating and providing access to refugee databases online, but director Christopher Mikkelsen says using mobile phones provides more direct access to refugee populations.

"Mobile phones are extremely interesting in terms of refugee family tracing because the vast majority of refugees have access to one," said Christopher Mikkelsen. "Our preliminary research done around east Africa shows that all the way up towards 78 percent of refugees have access to a phone. This doesn't mean that they have one themselves, but there may be a community phone. While it can be tremendously difficulty ot reach refugees via the web, it is much simpler and much more efficient to go via mobile phones that furthermore is a process they are familiar with."

According to Mikkelsen, MTN, the largest mobile service provider in Uganda, has provided a toll-free number through which refugees can access an SMS questionnaire and create a profile. Users can anonymously input information such as nicknames, physical features and last known location which can then be searched through by family and friends.

While being launched initially as a pilot program, the organization believes over 3 million refugees could potentially benefit from the project. The program will run until the end of December, at which point Refugees United hopes to expand to other countries with large refugee populations such as Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  According to Mikkelsen the group's goal is to eventually go global and allow refugees around the world to reconnect in real time.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid