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One SMS message to reconnect refugees

Veronica C. Silva | July 5, 2011
Partnership tries to reconnect separated refugees through mobile technology.

Sometimes, all it takes is just one SMS message. Ideally, that is how easy it is for separated refuges from across the world to reconnect.

One SMS message is the inspiration behind the partnership among Ericsson, Refugees United and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to try to bring together thousands of refugees separated by war and natural disasters.
Ericsson said it is encouraged by the UNCHR’s campaign to “do 1 thing,” a global campaign the UNCHR launched in time for World Refugee Day on 20 June 2011.

Ericsson’s role is to work with mobile operators across the world to encourage the mobile technology and services sector to do their share and help refugees to reconnect through the use of mobile devices.

Register and search

Ericsson is helping extend Refugees United’s mobile application platform through which refugees can register to be part of a database and search for their loved ones. Eventually, they can reconnect through SMS and mobile Internet.

Refugees United is a not-for-profit organisation working to help reconnect separated refugee families.

Since the launch of its platform last September, Refugees United and its partners have already helped more than 41,000 refugees as they search for their missing family members. The platform sees a registration of 4,500 refugees per month.

Most recently, Ericsson forged a partnership with Africa’s Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) to deploy the service across Africa, initially through a pilot in Uganda.

Aside from SMS, the platform can also use mobile-enabled browsing (wireless application protocol or WAP).

Powerful device

Christopher Mikkelsen, managing director, Refugees United, said a “simple handheld device becomes a powerful connector in even the most remote place.” Through the device and its network of partners, it hopes to reach and reconnect countless separated families across Africa.

António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, added: “Helping refugees locate their loved ones using mobile text messages and mobile Internet is one of the many ways in which technology is changing our world and helping people reconnect. Ensuring this is done in a way that respects the privacy and security of individual refugees, UNHCR is proud to participate in this pioneering and highly successful initiative.”

Ericsson is also launching the service in Kenya with Safaricom, and in Sweden and Denmark with the operator 3.

Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, vice president, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Ericsson, said they are committed to register 120,000 refugees by the end of the year, and this will be fast tracked with the launch of the Android app and expanding its network of mobile operator partners.


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