With more than 42 million refugees in the world, many affected by political conflict and natural disasters, the added desperation of being separated from their family and friends without feasible means of tracing them can only compound their suffering.
In response to a call from UNHCR to "do 1 thing" to support refugees, Ericsson is leading an industry initiative to use technology as a force for good in support of the refugee cause.
Today - World Refugee Day - Ericsson, Refugees United and UNHCR are launching a multi-country campaign with mobile operators to extend the use of mobile services to facilitate global efforts to reconnect separated refugees.
This campaign includes the use of the latest Android app technology to extend the reach of the Refugees United service - enabling millions more refugees to use SMS, mobile-enabled browsing (wireless application protocol or WAP) and the Android market to find their loved ones.
The Refugees United platform enables refugees to use mobile phones to register and search for loved ones via an anonymous database, and subsequently to connect using SMS or the internet.
Christopher Mikkelsen, Managing Director, Refugees United, says: "In our mission to help refugees searching for loved ones, the mobile phone is the link to the people we're working to help. Coupled with the right information, a simple handheld device becomes a powerful connector in even the remotest of places. This partnership will enable us to reach, and reconnect, countless separated families across Africa."
António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, says: "UNHCR is pleased to join with Ericsson to broaden the availability of the Refugees United application to a number of markets, in both the developed and developing world. 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."
The recent pilot of the mobile services in Uganda, involving Ericsson, pan-African operator Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) and UNHCR has now developed into a multi-country agreement to deploy the service across Africa. Since the launch of the service in September 2010, 41,000 refugees have registered. Among these are cousins Abdulahi Hussein Sheikh and Mohamed Ali Salah who were separated in 1991 when fleeing the troubles in Somalia and have since found each other through the service after 20 years without contact.
In addition, Ericsson is 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 at Ericsson, says: "We are building on our commitment to register 120,000 refugees by the end of the year with the launch of the Android app. Adding more countries through our operator partners and enabling access on multiple platforms will help us to achieve this goal, and help break down the obstacles to the reunification of refugees by using technology for good."