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New mobile application helps speed up family reunification for Congolese child refugees in Uganda

A new mobile application seeks to bring together separated and unaccompanied children and their families – in emergency situations.

Bh Dheepa Pandian

KAMWENGE DISTRICT, western Uganda, 19 March 2013 – Pascal, 15, fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo when rebels attacked his village. He arrived at Rwamwanja refugee settlement, Uganda, a month ago.

UNICEF correspondent Dheepa Pandian reports on how UNICEF is using technology to reunite Congolese refugee families in Uganda.  Watch in RealPlayer


“I came from Congo because they were fighting and I was scared of dying, so I just ran away with a group of boys,” he says, his voice trembling. “We ran into an ambush, but I managed to escape. I then got picked up by strangers and managed to cross over to Uganda with them.”  

Pascal was at school when the rebels came. As he had no choice but to flee without his family, Pascal is one of the children who have come across the border unaccompanied since fighting broke out in 2011. 

Mobile application for emergencies

Rwamwanja settlement spans 41 square km. Having taken most of the Congolese new arrivals, the camp is nearing its maximum capacity of 50,000 residents.

© UNICEF Uganda/2013
Newly arrived Congolese refugees are registered at Rwamwanja refugee camp in Uganda. Children who arrive without parents are identified and their details and a photograph are taken. Details collected at the transit centre are accessed by camp staff through a mobile application, and they can begin tracing a child's family before she or he arrives at the camp.

Because of the size of the settlement, reunifying children like Pascal with their families or even with fellow villagers has been a daunting task. But a mobile phone application introduced by UNICEF has made the process much easier.

The application, RapidFTR, is designed to streamline and speed up family tracing and reunification. It is a data storage system that collects, sorts and shares information about unaccompanied and separated children in emergency situations.

Save the Children and Uganda Red Cross are currently using RapidFTR at this camp for the first time to search for children’s family members.

Tracing sooner, rather than later

“Before RapidFTR, we would have to use paper and fill out lots of forms to get all the details,” says Child Protection Officer of Save the Children Fatuma Arinaitwe. “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.”

UNICEF correspondent Karin Bridger reports on how, as Congolese refugees are arriving at Rwamwanja settlement, the United Nations team in Uganda and key partners have come together to support the government to deliver services for this vulnerable population.


As is common in many host countries, refugees here arrive first at a transit centre. There, they are registered, and parentless children are identified and verified. Using RapidFTR, details about each child are entered into the phone, and a picture is taken. Protection officers at the receiving camps can access the information instantly and begin tracing even before the child arrives.  
“When we search and find a child, it is easier for us to start tracing much earlier now.  So, as soon as the children get here, we do the reunification,” says Ms. Arinaitwe.

Pascal has been registered and is hopeful that his family or fellow villagers will be found. “Here, I have peace now. I may not have many clothes, but I am at peace.”

“But now,” he adds, “I just want to find my parents.”




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