Photo of a refugee camp in Rwanda. Photo by©Elisa Finocchiaro Creative Commons – license – BY
There are about 65 million people worldwide right now who have fled their homeland. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says this is the highest such figure since the second world war. As tragic as that is, it's even more heartbreaking to realize that many of those folks have lost contact with their families.
But help may be on the way.
Two Danish brothers and social entrepreneurs David and Christopher Mikkelsen have found a solution to this challenge. Their platform, REFUNITE, for Refugees United, has registered more than half a million migrants around the world to re-establish lost contact with their families. Here is a video that summarizes the principles of the project:
Earlier this year, the Mikkelsen brothers were named social entrepreneurs of the year by the World Economic Forum (WEF) for their efforts. Upon the announcement, their website published this explanation on how the platform works:
"The family reconnection platform is accessible from a simple mobile phone via SMS, USSD, web or a free hotline. Whether it is an Afghan refugee in Pakistan or an internally displaced person in Iraq, anyone in need can search, re-connect and communicate with their missing loved ones – even if they are unable to pay for mobile data."
Despite the gratification of bringing in the 500,000th person onto the REFUNITE platform and starting them on a journey of reconnecting them to their family, the brothers have not forgotten about the significance of the platform:
"While this is an achievement to note, it comes with the somber reminder that these are people unable to find their children, siblings, parents and friends. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t stop here: the world is harboring more displaced people than we’ve seen since WWII! And while Syria is responsible for both the largest numbers of its citizens on the run and the most headlines, there are unfortunately many other crises in full bloom, and numerous new ones threatening to erupt at any moment. REFUNITE will continue to work tirelessly to help everyone looking for loved ones to reconnect. Our aim is to continuously build out our platform to provide a digital home and infrastructure to soon millions of displaced people."
REFUNITE is headquartered in Kenya, but was first created in Denmark in collaboration with Ericsson. It is funded by the IKEA Foundation and other private foundations and it has partnership with a global coalition of mobile operators and with Facebook.
So far close to 11 million messages have passed through the platform and has performed over 9 million searches, with 600,000 total registrations all over the world. By 2017 REFUNITE aims to register 1 million displaced people.