(All photos by Asa Mathat)
Co-founder, Refugees United
Mikkelsen: So I’m here today to tell you that the world from many’s perspective is not as connected as you think. Everybody in this room is somebody’s parent or somebody’s sibling, or somebody’s child. And I want you to take five seconds out of your busy lives and think about where you would be and what you would do if you didn’t know where your children were right now. And then I want you to transpose that thought on to the realities of the world’s more than 43 million refugees who have not only had to flee a regime, conflict, death, leaving everything they knew and heading into a future that they don’t know. Many of them have also lost contact with their immediate family members.
About five years ago, my brother David and I helped a young Afghan refugee in his quest to find his seven missing family members and in the process discovered that all of the big established organizations and institutions had failed or had not caught up with the world of now and created any kind of shareable data that they could capture in refugee camps in various countries around the world and share across not only their own organizations, but across the world as a whole and sharing that with the refugees themselves as well.
And at that moment, it struck us that information captured in the southwest of Pakistan, staying in the southwest of Pakistan on pen and paper and physical archives, are going to lead many of the millions of people in search of missing loved ones to never find each other.
And that brought us to create Refugees United, which is essentially an organization that is specifically focused on streamlining the process of global refugee family tracing, utilizing mobile platforms, democratizing the process by kindly forcing the big institutions to collaborate around data, to connect the information that we can capture in various places around the world very simply by using low-tech mobile platforms.
And, as you can imagine, when we’re working in a camp like Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, we’re not specifically focused on Android and IOS and all these lovely gadgets. We’re talking text messages. We’re talking technologies such as USSD and WAP and so on, that through distributed teams working in these places become highly powerful data collectors that can help families find each other not after years, not after months, but in many cases after weeks or days.
To give you a frame of reference, just to set up how much we have been able to amplify the efficiencies of these organizations, in the year 2009 the Kenyan Red Cross, a great organization whom we partner with today, they had the capacity to open about 750 tracing cases a year. We partnered with them late last year. And in the first half of 2012, we brought the Kenyan Red Cross to be able to open 33,500 cases in six months.