13 September 2010

Uganda: It to Help Refugees Trace Relatives

A pilot project to locate and reconnect refugee and internally displaced persons families through the use of a mobile phone and the internet was launched in recently.

The mobile phone application developed by Ericsson will create a database for all refugees registered by UNHCR and Refugees United so that families can locate their long lost relatives. MTN will provide the network and free toll free number the refugees to use the application.

"Ericsson assisted Refuge United in building the Mobile version that is fit for a mobile phone. This was done because the mobile phone has more penetration at the moment than the internet," said Adem Sumertas the Country Manager Ericsson Uganda at the launch of the pilot project in Kampala last week.

Africa has got a mobile phone penetration of 45% compared to the internet which has only 2%. The information on the refugees and their profiles is run and maintained by Refugees United an non-profit organisation that helps families that have lost contact with each other during conflict to reconnect on an anonymous platform.

The internet platform has been running for a while but the Mobile phone application is a new service and was first launched in Uganda last week. Uganda is the pilot project at the moment and the partners in the project seek to expand this to Africa and globally as the weigh its success.

The pilot project is currently taking place in the District of Adjumani in Nothern Uganda. "A refugee looking for family will give personal information that helps in creating some Identity.

One can use features on their body like scars, a nickname known in their family or describe anything that a family member can identify," says Christopher Mikkleson the director Refugee United.

According to MTN who will host the service on the network, the refugee will send an SMS with the keyword REG to 0777956156 and choose a username and pincode.

This creates an inbox for the refugee who can register a profile and also be able to search for the family. According to Kai Nielsen the UNHCR Uganda representative, there are about 150,000 refugees in the country with most of them from South Sudan and DRC.

He also says that mobile phone is much more than just a tool for the privileged but can also be used to for the least fortunate people in the world.

The mobile phone is a gadget that needs to be bought and not all the people in the refugee camps can afford it.

Some of the people in refugee camps usually sacrifice some of their produce from harvests among others in order to buy a mobile phone handset.

"In the refugee camps people sacrifice their meals in order communicate on the mobile and can also afford to sale a cow or goat to be able to re-charge their phone accounts.

People in these camps would be willing to do whatever it takes to find their families," says Emmanuel Jal a Sudanese musician and former child soldier.

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