Our Experience with Refugees United (RU) Data Collection in Nairobi

By Angela Okune
iHub Research
  Published 20 Feb 2012
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Your mobile phone beeps. You check it. A “Breaking News” alert: “Tensions grip most of Nairobi city following months of threat of attack by guerillas fighting from Ngong Forest.”  These same guerillas have taken hold of the rest of Kenya and you are targeted because of your ethnic background. Your twitter timeline is suddenly frantic with new messages: all of them talking about attacks underway in various parts of the city and beyond. You run. You run and the next time you look back, you are somewhere along the border of Tanzania. You can’t turn back. You have left with nothing and you don’t know where your family is. You can only place where each could have been, all of them going about their day, before the fighting began. You don’t know if they are alive. You are alone. Running. When you are a little more assured of your own safety, you will look for them. Where will you begin? These past two weeks have seen the iHub Research team talk to refugees in Umoja and Eastleigh about their experiences with the Refugees United Family Tracing Tool. See our past blog entry for more details about the project. The tool, which has both an online and mobile aspect, allows families separated during flight to find each other by searching a database of self-reported and registered cases. It seeks to give refugees the opportunity to take the search into their own hands as they can themselves access and search the online database. In some communities, the monitor who initially registers the users becomes the point person in guiding older and some illiterate refugees to use the platform. For a number of monitors, they feel it is a responsibility to their community that they do the job and do it right. Some of the responses we gathered related to the fact that many of the refugees don’t read or write in the languages of the RU platform. While the platform is available in languages including English, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, Somali, French, and Kiswahili, some of the refugees we met were not literate in any of the above languages. This made it very difficult for them to use the tool without assistance. The refugees look forward to having an even further expanded selection of languages available on the RU platform in the future. Think about how important your mobile phone is for information. RU’s tool takes advantage of the availability of mobile phones as sources of information. Some of the refugees in Kenya do no understand Kiswahili, English, or any other language spoken in the country. Therefore traditional sources of information—TV, radio and newspapers—are useless.  This is where the mobile phone and the Internet become critical. RU’s tool allows refugees to search for lost relatives and friends using different criteria including, but not limited to, name, nickname, hometown village, etc. It is interesting to note that different refugee groups have different concerns over what information should be listed on their profile. In most case, it is related to security concerns. These are some of the issues in developing the tool that RU will seek to resolve. The research that iHub Research is conducting in partnership with RU will address challenges and enhance the development of the tool so that it can be deployed anywhere where there are displaced people, worldwide. It is becoming increasingly clear how important the tool is to many refugees. The RU tool offers hope that one day, you who is running, will not be alone anymore.
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