REFUNITE: Reconnecting families with messaging technologies

We are in the midst of a global refugee crisis. It’s estimated that there are over 65 million refugees around the world right now, twice the population of Canada. We see the faces on the news. Worn. Haggard. Hoping, praying, for a better life. Looking for something better than the misery they left behind in their home country.

Beyond perilous journeys. Beyond threats of human trafficking and exploitation. Beyond all of the horrors refugees are escaping from, often families are ripped apart during the journey to a new home. Parents from children. Siblings from each other. Families trying to rebuild their lives, but they don’t even know where all of the members of their families are.

This is where REFUNITE comes in.

It started with uniting two brothers

Brothers David and Christopher Mikkelsen were working with refugee kids in Copenhagen when they met Mansour, a young Afghan refugee who got separated from his family—when he was 12 or 13—in Pakistan. David and Christopher bonded with Mansour and got to know him. When they heard his story they wanted to help him find his family, so they followed the standard procedure. Fill out a paper form at the Red Cross. The form was then sent to Geneva and then to Pakistan (where he had last seen his family). You can imagine how successful the search was. Undaunted, the brothers did manage to find Mansour’s younger brother in Russia and the two were reunited after six years, but not without heartache and months of searching.

Throughout this ordeal, David and Christopher wondered, why isn’t technology helping us solve this problem? Why wasn’t there a way for refugees to reconnect and contact their families using even just a basic cell phone? Cell phones have become cheap enough that nearly everyone can afford them. The basic tools are already in people’s hands, why not connect the dots.

Why not?

Building a way for families to find each other

So here are the challenges. First you need a way to gather information from people that can be searched quickly and easily. Building a search engine with profiles of people that can be searched isn’t the hard part. Getting the data is the hard part. Next challenge, letting the people who need the service—the refugees themselves—know about it to search for family or enter their data into the system to be found.

How do you let a huge, huge, group of people know about a service when the only access to information they have is their cell phone?


To make creating profiles as easy as possible, refugees can use 2-Way SMS and USSD to complete their profile and search the database for family members. If someone can’t read, they can call a toll free number to complete their profile and search. These simple steps are the magic. Simple pieces of technology that lets a person who needs help get help.

Here’s how it works:

And does it work? Yes…

We’re proud to be a small part of this story. Infobip works with our operator partners to enable both regular and 2-Way SMS for free to refugees. It’s essential, so essential, that there are no barriers to people connecting with REFUNITE. The messages are free to send and receive. The phone calls are free. Connecting is free.

Because what we’re connecting is priceless.

REFUNITE is an example of everything that’s amazing about technology. Its ability to connect. To democratize information. To truly help people who need help most.

Please share this story and help spread the word about REFUNITE. Together let’s help reconnect families broken by war, disaster, or despair.

Nov 8th, 2016
3 min read