Innovation arrives in unexpected ways sometimes – and that was certainly the case with the creation of Refugees United — REFUNITE – an organisation designed to help reunite refugee families or individuals that have become separated from their loved ones.
REFUNITE was created in 2008 after its Danish co-founders, David and Christopher Mikkelsen, discovered that there was no linked record-keeping or sharing of databases and information between relief agencies that might assist refugees who had lost contact with their families. These were issues that blockchain, also known as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) could assist with.
REFUNITE has partnered with IOTA – a world leader in blockchain technology (DLT) and, right up to the present day, the results have been quite amazing. Testimonials and pictures on the opening page of REFUNITE’s website show reunited families, some of whom had been separated for more than two decades.
Funded by donations from major corporations and private donors alike, part of REFUNITE’s success has been achieved through the use of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and as communications were re-established, family members could find their way back to one another. Mobile tech company, Ericsson, set up the ‘tracing platform’ for REFUNITE – a database that allows the refugees who are searching for family members to voluntarily enter data into the database. For privacy and safety purposes, the physical location of each person, their email address, and the number of their mobile phone is not revealed to anyone who is searching for them.
On each end, people who are looking for their loved ones enter data such as physical descriptions, the circumstances surrounding the disappearance, and the place where that missing person was last seen. Then, without revealing any current locations or contact details, lists of those entries are available to view. Once the parties who are searching for one another have determined that the account they are reading sounds like the missing person that they seek, they can contact each other through a private message. Many successful reunions have been achieved this way – but a report from GSMA – a global consortium of mobile providers – has emphasised that people need to check back more than once since approximately 3,000 new users register with the database each week. (Coin Telegraph, Aug. 2017) (REFUNITE, n.d.) (IOTA, n.d.) (GSMA, Feb. 2014)
Amongst the organisations that were highlighted at the end of 2017 for their commitment to helping refugees regain connection with their families were:
- RefuComm – working primarily in Greece to assist with reuniting refugees with family members who had already resettled in Germany.
- BuffaloGrid – a mobile phone company that uses a grid of solar power to operate their mobile phone, internet, and power services in remote locations. (Make Sense, n.d.)
Another organisation, based in the Netherlands, Kids Reunited is also using blockchain technology, in the form of phone apps to help family members find one another. Their primary focus is mainly centered around Syrian refugees who are currently in holding camps in Greece, yet in some cases, other family members have already been resettled in European countries that are further north.
Due to identity-verification problems that have been encountered when trying to register these refugees to use online phone apps such as Skype, Kids Reunited has a group of volunteer lawyers who have created a registration form that circumvents these issues. This form allows for a smoother reunification of family members who may have been forced to stay in a specific country of entry due to the Dublin Regulation governing EU refugee policy. This form can be downloaded, completed, and then returned to an email address listed on the Kids Reunited site (Kids Reunited, n.d.)
- D’Anconia, Frisco (2017, Aug. 8). IOTA Blockchain to Help Trace Families of Refugees During and After Conflicts. Retrieved from https://cointelegraph.com/news/iota-blockchain-to-help-trace-families-of-refugees-during-and-after-conflicts
- Refunite (n.d.). Retrieved from http://refunite.org/
- IOTA (n.d.) Retrieved from https://iota.org/
- Reconnecting Refugees Through Mobile. Retrieved from https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/GSMARUReport-FINAL-V2.pdf
- Delaunay, Antoine (n.d.). 10 social businesses that use technology to help refugees. Retrieved from https://stories.makesense.org/en/10-refugees-social-business-technology-to-have-a-positive-impact/
- Kids Reunited. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://kidsreunited.org/about/