New Mobile Application helps speed up the family reunification process for Congolese child refugees in Uganda
By Dheepa Pandian
13 March 2013, Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement, Kamwenge District, Western Uganda....Pascal, is a 15-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pascal arrived at Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement a month ago after rebels attacked his village. “I came from Congo because they were fighting and I was scared of dying so I just ran away with a group of boys,” says Pascal as his voice trembles with fear at the memory. “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.”
Sadly, Pascal was at school when the rebels came and he had no choice but to flee without his family. He is one of an estimated 300 children that came across unaccompanied since the fighting broke out in 2011.
Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement in Western Uganda spans across 41 square kilometers and now hosts over 30,000 refugees from Congo. Considering its vast size, reunifying children with their families or even fellow villagers was a daunting task. But now due to a mobile phone application introduced by UNICEF this process has now become much easier. Rapid FTR 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 families members for children like Pascal.
“Before RapidFTR, we would have to use paper and fill out lots of forms to get all the details,” says Fatuma Arinaitwe, Child Protection Officer, 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.”
As common, in many host countries, refugees arrive first at a transit center. There, they are registered and parentless children are identified and verified. Using RapidFTR details about the child are entered into the phone and a picture 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 Arinaitwe.
Pascal has now 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 I just want to find my parents.”