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Monday, September 20, 2010

Ericsson, MTN partner UNHCR to reconnect Ugandans

Leading technology provider, Ericsson is partnering Refugees United, MTN Uganda and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and mobile operator MTN in Uganda, have launched the first pilot project to locate and reconnect refugees and internally displaced persons as well as families through innovative use of mobile communications and internet.

A press statement from the Communications Manager, LM Ericsson Nigeria, Ms Omasan Ogisi said that Ugandan refugees are now reconnecting with the new mobile applications.

This, she said, aim at anonymously reconnecting families and friends separated due to conflict or natural disaster, just as over 3 million people could benefit from this project.

According to her, the pilot launched in Uganda and could be expanded to other countries in region, in support of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled from conflict and disaster areas.

The programme, she said, enables refugees to use mobile phones to register themselves, search for loved ones, and subsequently reconnect via an anonymous database, using Short Messaging Service (SMS) or mobile internet.

The information in the database, she said, is maintained by Refugees United, but the information registered could be used to search by refugees, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organizations caring for displaced people.

Additionally, she said, the database could be used to quickly put them in touch with loved ones. Without the programme, she explained in the press statement that locating displaced family members could often take years when based on traditional paper based systems.

Refugees United, she said, also provides the service via computers and internet, but with more than 5 billion mobile subscriptions today the service via mobile phones is highly relevant, noting that in the continent less than 2 per cent population has access to computers, compared to more than 45 per cent that have a mobile phone.

UNHCR Representative in Uganda, Kai Nielsen was quoted as saying that the majority of the refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are in the camps as a result of civil wars over the last 40 years and more recently, a series of natural disasters in the east Africa.

“UNHCR welcomes this new method of reuniting refugees with their friends and family. The pilot project is an important step toward a global partnership in which even the least fortunate people in the world can stay connected through innovative and accessible technology,” Nielsen said.

For the Director, Refugees United, Mr. Christopher T Mikkelsen, losing touch with loved ones during a crisis, even for just one day, could be detrimental to a person’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.

He said that through the pilot of this mobile refugee family locating programme, they aim to outfit UNHCR and other NGOs with a potent, collaborative tool, as well as empower refugees themselves to become active in the search for missing family.

“We hope in the future that this service proves sustainable and can be available to all mobile subscribers everywhere,” he said.

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