Ericsson partners with Safaricom and Vodacom to hasten refugee, family reunification

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  • ref_untdRefugees United reconnection platform is now available to thousands of families via a toll-free line and a free simple dial-code application in Kenya through Safaricom and via Vodacom in DRC.
  • Safaricom will support a series of awareness activities, including SMS campaigns for the two largest refugee camps in Kenya, Dadaab and Kakuma.
  • Vodacom will launch a new hotline for service assistance in DRC.

With more than 43 million people forcibly displaced globally – with UNHCR figures indicating that Kenya is host to some 979,070 refugees – the need for a service to reconnect separated families is as pressing as ever.

In recognition of this urgent need, Ericsson and Refugees United has broadened the reconnection services with Safaricom in Kenya and Vodacom in DRC to enable people to use a free dial code and toll-free lines from both operators to access the family reconnection platform.

The partnership with the two mobile service providers is part of Refugee United’s efforts to connect 1 million refugees by 2015 through the online family reconnection service. The reconnection service aims to help refugees locate loved ones separated by war, conflict, famine or natural disasters. The number of refugees registered for the service more than tripled in 2012, and marked 185,000 registrations by the start of 2013.

Using a free dial code and toll-free lines from Safaricom, displaced people in Kenya will be able to access the family reconnection platform invented by Refugees United. Additionally, Vodacom is launching a similar service in DRC.

Refugees United is a free, mobile and online platform that allows people to search for missing family members, friends, and relatives on a safe and anonymous basis. Until now the platform was only accessible via a computer or internet-enabled mobile phone. It will now be available through a toll-free line and via a simple dial-code system, just like users know it from mobile banking, for example.

Christopher Mikkelsen, co-founder of Refugees United, says: “Everyone has the right to know where their family is. Thanks to Ericsson and operator partners like Safaricom and Vodacom DRC, we can empower refugees to take the search for missing loved ones into their own hands. Now, families can simply call our toll free line or dial a simple short code from their mobile phone to start the search for long lost family members or relatives.”

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said: “Millions of families have been separated as they flee violence and war in their home countries. Refugees United empowers separated family members to take the search for missing loved ones into their own hands.”

“This initiative has the power to transform the nature of family reconnection for generations to come. It is an example of how mobile technology is truly changing the lives of people on the African continent for good. We are looking for innovative ways to get this to scale, and partnerships are key to success,” says Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson.

Leveraging the ubiquitous nature of simple mobile phones across Kenya and DRC, the new, simple ways of accessing the Refugees United family reconnection platform will serve many more thousands of families in the search for their missing loved ones. Ericsson and Refugees United have set a goal to reach one million users on the platform by the end of 2015.

In the run-up to World Refugee Day, Ericsson and Refugees United hosted  a Global Hack for Good” in Cairo, Nairobi and Silicon Valley, where developers were tasked with a challenge of coding applications to ensure that the platform is accessible to families living in refugee camps and remote areas.

During the Kenya Hackathon, two projects were selected as finalists in the two-day developer session. The two winning projects – one by Team DKK (which enables volunteers to collect data offline and synchronizes it with an online server when connection is available) and the other, developed by Team ACID, an online web registration system called “Ref Unite Plus” that has finer details that makes it easier to locate a refugee – were presented at Kakuma Refugee Camp on Thursday June 20 as part of the World Refugee Day celebrations.

The overall winner of this global Hack for Good will be known after the Google Hangout held on June 20th at 15:00 CET.

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