The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Ericcson and MTN has recently partnered with an NGO, Refugees United to provide a service that can be help people locate their missing loved ones via mobile phone.
The service already has about 4,500 requests from Africans seeking their missing loved ones.
The pilot is taking place in Uganda and is set to be expanded soon to Sudan and Kenya and then globally. At present, people of more than 80 nationalities are in the database.
According to Refugee United’s Managing Director, Christopher Mikkelsen, the plan is to make the system available “on every SMS and WAP-enabled handset, of course in countries of operation, as international SMS will too often be prohibitively expensive for refugees.”
There are two ways to use the system: one can enter one’s own details into the database or search it for other people, using a variety of terms, including name or nickname, birthplace, home village/town, location of last meeting, number of siblings, and so on. The system, which is free, is designed to ensure the anonymity of people who may be trying to keep a low profile.
Emmanuel Jal, a Sudanese musician and former child soldier, told news service, IRIN after the launch in Kampala of the mobile phone service that he made vast journeys on foot in Sudan trying to locate his family but his sister only came to know about him when he was interviewed on the BBC.
“Many Sudanese refugees do not know where they are and how to trace their families. It took me 12 years to connect with my family members,” he said. “I now think of the many refugees who will be able to reconnect with their lost loved ones, in a matter of days,” he added.
There are some 127,000 refugees in Uganda, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, while 250,000 people displaced during a civil war in northern Uganda are still living in camps, according to UNHCR.
Image via Afronline