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UNICEF’s digital tool that reunites families


Sudden humanitarian disasters can separate families. The trauma is then compounded further by the difficulty in reuniting family members. That problem may be one of the past.

A new UNICEF tool provides a quick way to bring families back together. The digital registration tool called Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification (RapidFTR) helps stranded children reunite with their families.

UNICEF, Save the Children and the Uganda Red Cross are using RapidFTR for Congolese families displaced in Uganda.

“Before RapidFTR, we would have to use paper and fill out lots of forms to get all the details,” said Child Protection Officer of Save the Children Fatuma Arinaitwe. “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.”

The product was developed in collaboration with New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts. Student Jorge Just was inspired by a series of visits to Uganda to develop a technology that will connect separated families.

“A child might be on one side of a refugee camp, and their parents might be on the other side, but for all intents and purposes, they might as well be on different continents,” he said to the New York Times. “Even small distances in those situations can feel insurmountable.”

RapidFTR works as a data storage system that collects, sorts and shares information unaccompanied children in emergency situations. When a child arrives at a camp information is collected via a mobile phone and a picture is taken.

“RapidFTR is designed to help us quickly establish a child’s identity and that of their family, after which tracing and reuniting them becomes much easier,” said Dr. Sharad Sapra, UNICEF Representative in Uganda. “We are working very closely with UNHCR, ICRC, Uganda Red Cross Society and Save the Children to facilitate this process among the refugees from DRC.”

The data is then available to other humanitarian workers in the network and provides them with the ability to quickly bring families back together.  By moving from paper to digital, RapidFTR has managed to reduce the time  for information to become available from more than six weeks to a mere hours.

Ten-year-old Rosete Simany of Kamango, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo was separated from her family when fighting between rebels and her family broke out. She fled to the  Busunga border post before being taken to the Bubukwanga transit centre in Bundibugyo District, Uganda by a truck.

The temporary transit center provided a safe space for Rosete. She was registered by RapidFTR immediately after she was identified as an unaccompanied minor.

Three days later, Rosete was reunited with her aunt and moved out of the tent for unaccompanied children.

RapidFTR is expanding to deployment in South Sudan. Even in cases where children cannot say their own names, the use of photographs hopefully speed up the process of re-connecting families.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]