Conflict, poverty and environmental disaster are the main reasons why people may decide to leave their country to search for a better life elsewhere. In the often turbulent journeys that ensue, some of those fleeing will just disappear. Now the platform REFUNITE is helping people reunite with their lost loved ones.
According to the UNHCR, there are over 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world – many of whom will end up living far away from their loved ones in different part of the worlds, alienated and alone. REFUNITE, brainchild of social entrepreneurs David and Christopher Mikkelsen, was born in 2008 to help anyone search for and reconnect with their missing loved ones.
REFUNITE is a tracing platform, and with an online global database of 600,000 missing persons profiles, it’s also the world’s largest missing persons network for displaced people and refugees.
How does it work?
As opposed to the family tracing programmes traditionally in use before REFUNITE came along – that is, based on paper questionnaires – the platform relies on collaborative technology which easily and quickly enables communication and the sharing of information between users, agencies and across borders.
The REFUNITE platform enables users to search for a missing person using SMS, USSD, web or a free helpline – so no smartphone or even an internet connection is needed, to register, search or message through the platform.
By providing information such as name, gender, age, tribe, clan etc., users can create and upload onto the platform the profile of the missing person they are trying to locate. Once the profile is set up, REFUNITE will send users notifications any time they have new information, questions or possible leads about the missing person.
Creating a missing person’s profile, searching, connecting and communicating through refunite.org is free, and the organisation works with local telecommunication partners to also enable toll-free numbers, such as in Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Thanks to its Free Basics partnership with Facebook, the mobile application is accessible for free within all of REFUNITE’s partner mobile phone operators.
REFUNITE in numbers
- SEVEN is the number of languages the platform is available in: Somali, French, Swahili, English, Amharic, Arabic and Sudanese Arabic with more languages planned.
- FOUR is the number of languages the USSD mobile application is currently available in: English, French, Somali, and Swahili.
- SEVENTEEN is the number of countries in which users can browse the platform for free from their smartphones, thanks to its Free Basics partnership with Facebook and Ericsson. The countries are: Algeria, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
- Over 38,000 is how many family members REFUNITE has helped reconnect to date.
To ensure that those who cannot read or write are also able to benefit from its family re-connection service, REFUNITE is currently developing an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to enable registration, searching and communication on its platform by voice alone. In their first project of the kind, they will use IVR technology, backed by a call centre, to engage illiterate women in Pakistan, a country in which some 60% of women are estimated to be illiterate and home to almost 2 million internally displaced people.
REFUNITE is one of the Schwab Foundation 2017 social entrepreneurs awardees.
To find out more about REFUNITE, including their refugee protection policy, check out the Q&A on their website.
And here’s a beautifully told true story by a refugee the organisation has helped: