MTN, Ericsson and Refugees United to help reconnect refugees across Africa

MTN and Ericsson – in conjunction with Refugees United – have taken a bold step towards enabling the reconnection of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) with their families in Africa.

The firms today marked the World Refugee Day by launching a free mobile service to facilitate the reconnection of refugees and IDPs separated from their families and friends by conflicts and natural disasters.

In terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between MTN and Ericsson, together with Refugees United, the successful refugee family tracing pilot conducted in Uganda will be expanded to include multiple locations across Africa.

The MoU builds on the commitment made by the three organizations, together with UN High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, to register 120 000 refugees on the service by the end of 2011.

A recent UNHCR report estimates that more than 20% of refugees and IDPs reside in Africa and could potentially benefit from this mobile platform.

This innovative initiative harnesses the global scale of mobile communication technology to empower people in need of connectivity. It enables refugees with even the most basic handsets to use the Internet to register their details, search for loved ones and subsequently reconnect.

The internet service can be accessed via web browsers on mobile phones and computers. However, the mobile phone will be critical to extending the reach of the service.

The growth of mobile telephony is one of Africa’s success stories of the past two decades, with penetration passing the 50% mark at the end of 2010 with approximately 535 million mobile subscribers, while less than 10%[1]  of the African population has access to the Internet, and less than 2% to computers.

Personal information details of those making use of the service will be treated in the strictest of confidence to protect their identities. Refugees United will maintain the database, allowing use of stored information by refugees, NGOs and international organizations caring for refugees and IDPs to reconnect them with their families.

MTN will host and offer the free mobile service on their networks. Ericsson will provide the mobile application, technology and systems integration to enable the application in mobile networks. The UNHCR will help implement the project in refugee settlements in selected countries.

Christian de Faria, MTN Senior Vice President for Commercial and Innovation, says this initiative was worthy of MTN’s support. “MTN is in the business of connecting people, and what a way to demonstrate this by leveraging our asset – the network – to advance a worthy cause”.

Lars Linden, Head of Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa, says: “We are very proud to be a part of this, the focus of innovation at Ericsson is to change people’s lives for the better and this is a clear demonstration of that.”

Christopher Mikkelsen, Co-founder, Refugees United, says: “In our mission to help refugees searching for loved ones, the mobile phone is the link to the people we’re working to help. Coupled with the right information, a simple handheld device becomes a powerful connector in even the remotest of places. This partnership will enable us to reach, and reconnect, countless separated families across Africa.”

Notes to editors:

World Refugee Day 2011

June 20 is World Refugee Day. To mark the occasion and this year’s 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention on 28 July, UNHCR is launching a six-month campaign aimed at promoting public awareness of the stories of individual refugees and other forcibly displaced people. The campaign features a number of media products including a video by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, a new online video experience called “1 Life, 1 Story” in which refugees tell their own stories, and related publicity materials inviting members of the public to get involved and Do 1 Thing to help refugees, such as follow UNHCR on Facebook and Twitter. UNHCR is inviting media organizations to also engage and support the campaign via their news and blog sites. For interested media organizations, online digital banners are available for this purpose. Join us in letting others know that even one person forced to flee war or persecution, is one too many.


About United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people. In more than five decades, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives. Today, a staff of some 6,600 people in more than 110 countries continues to help about 34 million persons.


Refugees United is a not-for-profit organization working to help reconnect separated refugee families. Using web and mobile technologies, the organization has created a platform of collaboration for refugee organizations and refugees themselves, where information on families separated can be uploaded, shared and used to reconnect families across borders and conflicts. Refugees wishing to remain anonymous can choose to register with nicknames or other non-sensitive information they are comfortable in sharing with the world.

Since moving to a predominantly mobile platform in Sept. 2010, Refugees United and partners have helped more than 38,000 refugees in search of missing family come on the platform, with more than 4,500 new refugees signing up every month.   Please see more at: 


Christopher T Mikkelsen, Director

Tel:  +45 3127 3973



Launched in 1994, the MTN Group is a multinational telecommunications group, operating in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The MTN Group is listed on the JSE Securities Exchange in South Africa under the share code: “MTN.” As of 31 March 2011, MTN recorded 147, 2 million subscribers across its operations in Afghanistan, Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Republic, Iran, Liberia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville), Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia. Visit us at and


Xolisa Vapi

Mobile: +27 83 200 4363


About Ericsson

Ericsson is the world’s leading provider of technology and services to telecom operators. Ericsson is the leader in 2G, 3G and 4G mobile technologies, and provides support for networks with over 2 billion subscribers and has the leading position in managed services. The company’s portfolio comprises mobile and fixed network infrastructure, telecom services, software, broadband and multimedia solutions for operators, enterprises and the media industry. The Sony Ericsson and ST-Ericsson joint ventures provide consumers with feature-rich personal mobile devices. 

Ericsson is advancing its vision of being the “prime driver in an all-communicating world” through innovation, technology, and sustainable business solutions. Working in 180 countries, more than 90,000 employees generated revenue of SEK 203.3 billion (USD 28.2 billion) in 2010. Founded in 1876 with the headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, Ericsson is listed on NASDAQ OMX, Stockholm and NASDAQ New York.

Our multimedia content is available at the broadcast room:


Ericsson Media Relations in sub-Saharan Africa



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