AATZ Helps Connect Families Using Mobile Technology

By Ben Lewis

Mobile technology is on the rise globally and has the potential to drastically change the ways that refugees and their legal advocates connect over legal services provision.  Nowhere is this truer than in East Africa, where Asylum Access VLAs are using mobile technology to reunite missing loved ones. 

Five years ago when Bloomberg’s Businessweek proclaimed that cell phones were “sparking economic hope and growth” in emerging nations such as Kenya and Tanzania, they reported some 3 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide with projections of as many as 5 billion users by 2015.  Today, according to Jeffrey Sachs, that figure has climbed to more than 6 billion, with over 250 million mobile subscribers in Africa alone, dwarfing earlier estimates.

Asylum Access VLA Ben Lewis discusses RU mobile outreach with a Refugee Consortium of Kenya protection monitor in Nairobi.

East Africa is on the forefront of this mobile revolution, with over 75 million mobile phone users, and Asylum Access Tanzania (AATZ) VLAs are using mobile technology to help refugees and asylum seekers connect with missing family members and loved ones.  In 2011, AATZ began an initial partnership with Refugees United (RU), a Danish NGO providing a mobile tool for family tracing that helps refugees, IDPs and stateless people search for and reconnect with missing family or friends in a fully secure, anonymous platform.

In and around Dar es Salaam, Asylum Access VLAs have been helping refugees and asylum seekers to register themselves on the RU platform and search for missing loved ones.  With over 100,000 users worldwide and growing, Refugees United is quickly becoming a hub not only for reconnections, but for refugee messaging and information sharing.  Over the past year, Asylum Access VLAs have focused their efforts primarily on the urban refugee diaspora of Dar es Salaam.  However, with renewed funding support from Refugees United, AATZ is hoping to expand its services in 2012 to the refugee areas of Kigoma, where UNHCR reports nearly 275,000 people of concern still reside.

Asylum Access VLAs and RU staff break for lunch in Nairobi.

To learn more about the work of Refugees United in East Africa, see the following article from a 2011 issue of the Forced Migration Review, highlighting the role of mobile technology in family tracing in Kenya.  For a particularly eye-catching graphic about mobile use in Tanzania, see the following infographic prepared by iHub Research giving a general overview of the mobile sphere in Tanzania for 2011.


The postings on this site express the personal opinions of VLAs and guest bloggers.  They do not necessarily represent Asylum Access’ positions, strategies, or opinions.

To learn more about the work of Asylum Access, visit the Asylum Access webpage.


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