Lost and found: UNICEF software reunites families in refugee camps

The new technology has helped aid workers quickly connect stranded Congolese children to their families in Ugandan refugee camps. 

James Akena/AP
A Congolese refugee girl covers herself with a sheet at Bukanga transit camp in Uganda, July 17, 2013. A new tool developed by UNICEF is helping displaced children reunite with their families in the country's refugee camps.

•A version of this post first appeared on the blog A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Sudden humanitarian disasters can separate families. The trauma is then compounded further by the difficulty in reuniting family members. That problem may soon be one of the past.

A new tool from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) provides a quick way to bring families back together. The digital registration tool called Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification (RapidFTR) helps stranded children reunite with their families.

UNICEF, Save the Children, and the Uganda Red Cross are using RapidFTR for Congolese families displaced in Uganda.

“Before RapidFTR, we would have to use paper and fill out lots of forms to get all the details,” says Fatuma Arinaitwe, a child protection officer with Save the Children . “This took a lot of time, and then we would go around with a list of names and ask people if they knew these children.”

The product was developed in collaboration with New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts. Student Jorge Just was inspired by a series of visits to Uganda to develop a technology that will connect separated families.

“A child might be on one side of a refugee camp, and their parents might be on the other side, but for all intents and purposes, they might as well be on different continents,” he said to the New York Times. “Even small distances in those situations can feel insurmountable.”

RapidFTR works as a data storage system that collects, sorts, and shares information about unaccompanied children in emergency situations. When a child arrives at a camp information is collected via a mobile phone and a picture is taken.

“RapidFTR is designed to help us quickly establish a child’s identity and that of their family, after which tracing and reuniting them becomes much easier,” says Sharad Sapra, a UNICEF representative in Uganda. “We are working very closely with UNHCR [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees], ICRC [the International Committee of the Red Cross], Uganda Red Cross Society, and Save the Children to facilitate this process among the refugees from [Democratic Republic of Congo].”

The data is then available to other humanitarian workers in the network and provides them with the ability to quickly bring families back together.  By moving from paper to digital, RapidFTR has managed to reduce the time for information to become available from more than six weeks to a mere hours.

Ten-year-old Rosete Simany of Kamango, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, was separated from her family when fighting between rebels and her family broke out. She fled to the Busunga border post before being taken to the Bubukwanga transit center in Bundibugyo District, Uganda by a truck.

The temporary transit center provided a safe space for Rosete. She was registered by RapidFTR immediately after she was identified as an unaccompanied minor.

Three days later, Rosete was reunited with her aunt and moved out of the tent for unaccompanied children.

RapidFTR is expanding to deployment in South Sudan. Even in cases where children cannot say their own names, the use of photographs hopefully speed up the process of re-connecting families.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Lost and found: UNICEF software reunites families in refugee camps
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today