Grant boosts refugee family tracing service
REFUGEES UNITED TO HELP THOUSANDS MORE REFUGEE FAMILIES WITH MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR GRANT FROM IKEA FOUNDATION
§ $3.8 million grant will support non-profit with expanded outreach to individuals separated by war or natural disaster as well as new partnerships with refugee agencies
§ Numbers of refugees registered on Refugees United’s phone-based tracing service expected to increase from 50,000 to 200,000
§ Refugees United co-founder Christopher Mikkelsen: “When you’re fleeing tragedy, you tend to go far and wide. The IKEA Foundation grant means we’ll be able to get a critical mass and help more families get back together”
COPENHAGEN, 14 October 2011 - Refugees United, a non-profit that has developed the world’s first online, mobile phone-enabled tracing service to help reconnect individuals separated by war or natural disaster, announced today it had received a two-year $3.8 million grant from IKEA Foundation to scale up its service, which has already reunited dozens of individuals, most of whom have arrived in western cities.
The service, developed by the non-profit in partnership with telecommunications company Ericsson, has 50,000 registered users, mostly from Congo, Somalia and Sudan, but presently located in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The grant from the IKEA Foundation, which recently made a $62 million donation to the UNHCR, will enable Refugees United to expand its activities with UNHCR and NGOs in the field, to encourage registrations in refugee camps and experiment with data-sharing.
Christopher Mikkelsen, co-founder of Refugees United, said: “With the donation from the IKEA Foundation, we will be able to scale up our operations over the next two years, and bring much-needed help to the hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to trace their loved ones. Refugees United is tremendously excited by the possibilities of expanding our activities in the field.”
The number of mobile phones in refugee camps is surprisingly high with one out of two refugees in possession of a mobile device. The grant money will enable Refugees United to engage more closely with aid workers in the field to help people register, to raise awareness of the service across the world, and to further develop the technology, with more data-sharing between agencies. Refugees United already teams up with mobile operators like MTN Group and Safaricom to enable millions of refugees to gain access to the service.
First successes: A family reunited after 18 years
In August this year, in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dabaab in Kenya, a Somali woman was reunited with her two daughters who she had not seen in 18 years. They had traveled with their father to Switzerland, where the younger of the two had later immigrated to the United States.
Though verbal communication was limited – the daughters had forgotten the little Somali they had learned - the scene, witnessed by Mikkelsen, was highly emotional. The benefits for the thousands of separated families that the service could reunite in the future are unimaginable.
Mikkelsen commented: “When you’re fleeing tragedy, you tend to go far and wide. There are 600,000 refugees in Germany right now, a quarter of a million in France, Britain and America. There are millions again living in camps and cities across Africa and Asia. With the IKEA Foundation grant, we’re going to be able to get a critical mass and help many more families get back together.”
Per Heggenes, Chief Executive Officer, IKEA Foundation, said: “Reuniting families torn apart during famine, conflict and crises is a basic and invaluable way to improve the lives of millions of children who are separated from their parents and loved ones. We are proud to support Refugees United in their mission to develop an innovative solution to a chronic and heart-wrenching, yet very solvable problem.”
BACKGROUND: The growing refugee challenge
According to the United Nations, there are 43 million refugees worldwide, the highest number for fifteen years, with numbers expected to increase significantly in the medium-term due to conflicts and climate change effects. In the last five months, drought in the Horn of Africa is the most likely driver of a surge of 20,000 registrations on the Refugees United database.
Many refugees end up in countries far from home. According to the UNHCR, the host countries with the largest numbers of refugees as at January 2011:
1. Pakistan 4,041,642
2. Syrian Arab Republic 1,307,918
3. Islamic Republic of Iran 1,075,163
4. Kenya 751,196
5. Germany 679,462
6. Chad 529,090
7. Jordan 453,074
8. China 301,108
9. United States 270,859
10. United Kingdom 253,235
More statistics at: http://www.unhcr.org
About Refugees United
Refugees United is a 501(c)(3) non-profit independent organization with the mission of reconnecting thousands of separated refugee families across the globe via an online, mobile-enabled search tool that empowers refugees to take the search process into their own hands. The free service is available in many languages and contains searchable information on refugees of 82 nationalities. Refugees United collaborates with corporate partners such as Ericsson, SAP, Delta Partners and local network providers like Safaricom (Kenya) and MTN Group (globally). On the NGO side, Refugees United collaborates with entities such as the Red Cross, Refugee Consortium of Kenya, and the UNHCR. Learn more at http://info.refunite.org and http://www.facebook.com/refunite. Sign-up to the Refugees United service on web: www.refunite.org and mobile: m.refunite.org
About the IKEA Foundation
The IKEA Foundation aims to improve opportunities for children and youth in developing countries by funding holistic, long-term programmes that can create substantial, lasting change. The Foundation works with strong strategic partners applying innovative approaches to achieve large-scale results in four fundamental areas of a child’s life – a home, education, health, and family income. Currently-funded programmes benefit an estimated 100 million children. Learn more at www.ikeafoundation.org.