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Refugees United Logo.jpg
Founded 2008
Founders Christopher Mikkelsen & David Mikkelsen
Type Refugees United is a 501(c)(3) non-profit working to provide refugee families that have lost contact with each other during escape from conflict with an anonymous platform to reconnect.
Purpose Humanitarian
Mission "To help refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) reconnect with lost loved ones"

Refugees United (REFUNITE) is a non-profit organization established by two Danish brothers, David and Christopher Mikkelsen with the stated mission to "help refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) search for their missing loved ones." It focuses on online and mobile solutions to help families reconnect. Families can search for their missing loved ones using various touch points, including, SMS, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), and by calling a helpline. The REFUNITE family reconnection platform allows users to register, search for and message their missing loved ones that have also signed up on the platform.

The organization works through partnerships with like-minded individuals, organizations, corporations, and humanitarian agencies. The headquarters are located in Copenhagen, Denmark with a technology development lab in Nairobi, Kenya.


REFUNITE was founded in 2008 by two Danish brothers, David and Christopher Mikkelsen, after their personal journey trying to reconnect a young, Afghan refugee with his family. In their search, the two brothers discovered that existing family tracing programs lacked cross-border, collaborative technology and the process of family tracing was also often tied to cumbersome procedures and paperwork.

This is what prompted David and Chris to develop an international platform that would allow refugees and other Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to search and reconnect with their missing family and loved ones. REFUNITE empowers refugees and separated families to search, connect and communicate with family and friends they have lost along the way. The organization provides the family reconnection service, but puts it in the hands of its users to conduct the actual search.

Out of the 59.5 million [1] refugees in this world, many do not have access to Internet and have very basic and simple mobile phones. Therefore, REFUNITE focuses on making their service available on very basic technology.

Together with Ericsson, REFUNITE has partnered with a global coalition of mobile operators. Through these partnerships, the organization is able to communicate directly with millions of forcibly displaced people through SMS. With the help of these mobile operators, REFUNITE is able to make access to the platform free of charge. So far, there are over 425,000 people registered on the REFUNITE platform. These organizations help REFUNITE spread awareness and help people register and search. REFUNITE’s platform helps an estimated 100-150 families get reconnected every month.

Thousands of new users are coming on to the REFUNITE platform every week from all over the world. Part of their effort to make this service available to all is making sure that it is available in as many languages as possible. REFUNITE is constantly adding new languages to the platform, with its web service currently being available in seven languages, including English, Swahili, Somali, Arabic, French, Sudanese Arabic, and Amharic. REFUNITE’s call center also has agents who speak multiple languages to help those who are illiterate or having technical issues.

REFUNITE's Technology[edit]

REFUNITE Outreach Volunteer helping a beneficiary register via mobile phone


The family reconnection platform can be accessed through the official website or straight from The search tool is available in seven languages: English, Amharic, Arabic, Somali, Swahili, French, and Sudanese Arabic. The website can be accessed by anyone with Internet connection.


In countries where REFUNITE has partnerships with local mobile network operators, the platform is accessible for free via SMS. Beneficiaries with even very basic feature phones can register and interact with the platform without access internet. The SMS service is currently available in three countries: Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Subscribers to certain mobile networks can sign up for REFUNITE by responding to a message sent by REFUNITE. Once they reply, they will be taken through a set of steps that will register them for the service, fill in their profile, let them search for missing loved ones and if they find who they are looking for, message them.


REFUNITE’s family reconnection platform can accessible via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), making it accessible from even an entry-level mobile phone. This service is currently available in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Users can search by using a certain shortcode. They can also send and receive messages from other users straight through USSD.

Call Center[edit]

REFUNITE has helplines in Kenya (0800 724 882), Somaliland (169), and the DRC (62014) [1], and runs a multilingual call center in Nairobi, Kenya. By calling the helpline, users can register, search, send and receive messages. They agents at the call center will help users through every step.

Data collection[edit]

Users provide information that only they themselves find safe enough to share, which gives them the option of staying anonymous. While providing a phone number is necessary to sign up, this number is kept hidden and only used for signing in via our web service or to receive messages straight to your phone. While REFUNITE encourages users to provide as much information as possible, they understand that sharing certain information causes a safety concern for some. Therefore, users choose what public information they want to share, giving them the option to, for example, have their profile show personal information that only their family or closest friends would recognize, e.g. birthmarks, favorite foods, or other person-specific information.

Outreach Volunteers[edit]

REFUNITE's Outreach Volunteers help beneficiaries register, search, and even share their reconnection story with the organization.

REFUNITE has outreach volunteers at refugee camps in Dadaab and Kakuma in Kenya. The organization has teamed up with UNHCR as well as other aid organizations operating in camps in order to train local refugees on REFUNITE’s technology, so these refugees can help others sign up. Refugees themselves, many of the outreach volunteers are still looking for their own families as well, and are helping others while waiting to be reconnected themselves. They walk around the camps promoting REFUNITE’s service and help anyone interested to register and search. They are some of the most important people to REFUNITE, as they are instrumental in advocating the service and help foster trust between the organization and its beneficiaries.

Films by REFUNITE[edit]

Lost and Found - The Story of Refugees United[2]
Created with MediaStorm

Estelle's Story[3]
Created with Ericsson and House of Radon

More videos on REFUNITE’s Vimeo page


  • 2013 Prix Ars Electronica

Award of Distinction in the category Digital Communities[4]

  • 2013 Lovie Award

Lost and Found - The Story of Refugees United[5]

  • 2012 Webby Award Winner

Lost and Found - The Story of Refugees United[6]


Corporate partners[edit]

REFUNITE’s corporate partners include, among others, mobile network operators that enable the organization to communicate directly with refugees and send text messages to their phones. REFUNITE’s partners are:

Humanitarian Partners[edit]

REFUNITE has partnered with a number of humanitarian organizations including the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).


REFUNITE is funded by the IKEA Foundation. They have also been funded by Omidyar Network, Maersk Foundation, Danfoss Foundation, LEGO Foundation, SAP and many others.


  1. ^ "Facts and Figures About Refugees". UNHCR. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  2. ^ "Lost and Found: The Story of Refugees United". MediaStorm. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Estelle's Story". YouTube. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  4. ^ "Winners Prix Ars Electronica 2013". Ars Electronica Blog. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  5. ^ "Refugees United Receives a Lovie Award". Refunite Blog. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  6. ^ "Lost and Found – The story of Refugees United". Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  7. ^ "In-kind donations". Retrieved 2 December 2014. 

External links[edit]