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Using Search To Reconnect Refugees With Their Families

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the we-haven't-located-us-yet dept.

Social Networks 22

Lanxon writes "A lengthy and emotional feature on Wired this week goes behind the scenes of Refugees United (RU) — a US-registered non-profit, founded in 2006 by two Danish brothers, Christopher and David Mikkelsen, that aims to be a Google for refugee search: an easy, accessible platform that enables the displaced to find their families. On a grey July day in the RU office in Copenhagen — typical tech-company open-plan — Christopher and David, and Tomas Krag, chief technology officer, explain how the project came about, and the impact it has had on the world."

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Awesome! (0)

PReDiToR (687141) | more than 3 years ago | (#35043962)

One step nearer to my E17 desktop being actually E17 instead of E16.999999

I've been using E17 for over a year as my primary desktop environment and the number of crashes is liveably low and a quick restart (of Enlightenment, not the OS, not a logout event, takes less than a second) makes it all better.

Re:Awesome! (1)

sltd (1182933) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044026)

? Did you click on the wrong link, or is this the work of a /. port of the Android SMS messaging bug?

Re:Awesome! (2)

peragrin (659227) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044140)

no it is the new slashcode. You click on one link and randomly another article or link will come up.

I have very nearly done it my self 2-3 times in the last few days.

Who ever designed the new slashdot went to MSFT's interface design school and was a good study. All sorts of random crap is happening, and we get to beta test it for them. Loading slashdot on my phone cuts off comments, articles, and both menu bars

Re:Awesome! (2)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044672)

And what's more fun, <I> tags no longer appear to work, including retroactively. See look, not italics.

Which means it's utterly impossible to figure out what people quoted for about 30% of all slashdot posts, ever.

I point to below the posting buttons, where it explicitly (We'll see if that ends up bold) says you can use an <I> tag.

Re:Awesome! (1)

eltaco (1311561) | more than 3 years ago | (#35048370)

And what's more fun, tags no longer appear to work, including retroactively. See look, not italics.

let's see if quotes still work.

Re:Awesome! (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35076938)

Anyone else seeing this?

Look at a single post, i.e. click the (#nnnnnnnn), and it looks like there's a reply to it underneath. But it's actually a link back to itself.

I'm wondering what it was intended to do, or whether somebody thought it might be useful.

"A lengthy and emotional feature..." (2)

a Flatbed Darkly (1964478) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044090)

"...on Wired-" Lost me there. Hackneyed attacks on what is probably among the most hated of tech magazines pretending to be more independent than they are aside, this is certainly a good idea, but what's to stop people searching for people whom they have nothing to do with? The information on the site, from what I could ascertain from the article, doesn't appear to be meaningfully secured and is open to abuse.

Re:"A lengthy and emotional feature..." (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044518)

    I gave up reading after what would have been the first 5 pages of magazine print. I didn't even get to the subject material. What do they want to do, make a registry web site for refugees world wide?

    We already have plenty of infrastructure for such things. Friends and family know our email addresses, social media presences (facebook, myspace, etc). The problem here is, we're talking about people who likely didn't have Internet access before. For those in refugee camps, getting online to check their email is pretty low on the priority list, where food, clothing, shelter, and security are far more essential. I doubt too many people are screaming "I want to check my email." rather than "I need food."

    I had thought about setting up something similar in the past. After Katrina, DirecTV had a channel set up for broadcasting names, locations, and simple messages to friends and family. For those who were in the evacuee camps, they were worried about the essentials, and weren't watching DirecTV. Modern conveniences are less likely to be useful, when you have two individuals who were separated, and probably living in one of the worst places they'd ever been.

    I worked in a hurricane shelter once. It was pretty early in the Internet days. There were a few thousand people there. They were running on generators, but they had one computer set up. Since I could type fast (>100wpm), I was entering all the evacuee information into the stand-alone computer for the Red Cross. The building had internet access, but since there was no power (other than our generators) and the phones and network were down, it wasn't going anywhere any time quick. The information may have later been integrated into another database, but I have no idea. I don't work for the Red Cross, I was just a random volunteer helping out. I didn't just sit on the computer, I helped people remain calm, served drinks when they came in, and helped unload and distribute mattresses that the local jail had sent over. Most of the people there were tired, scared, and didn't know what to do, other than keep their family and friends close. That's about all you can do at that point. Try to remain calm, and keep those you care about safe and close to you.

Re:"A lengthy and emotional feature..." (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044698)

    To further this...

    I had a quick look at the CIA world factbook for Rwanda. 70% literacy rate. So 3 in 10 people won't know how to spell their own names, much less how to go to [] Once there, they won't be able to read what it says.

    There are 11 million people in the country. There are 2.9 million cell phones in use. There are 0.455 million Internet users. So, it would be fair to say that most of the population has had no exposure to the Internet. It would also be fair to say that if roaming, long distance tolls, and number portability were not a concern, cell phones would be the best method of letting people find each other.

    Cell phones are a world wide network. You can call from any remote area that has phone service, to any other remote area that has phone service, regardless of how far apart those remote areas are. If a refugee were given a phone, and their old phone number assigned to it, and they were able to make calls to any of their friends and family, they have a fighting chance of finding them.

    Since that's not the way it works, the subject of the beginning of the article, now living in Denmark, can't get a replacement phone with her old number (if she had one). She likely can't afford the long distance calls to friends and family, who themselves likely don't have phones with the same number, if they've re-established themselves elsewhere. If they've brought their phone to another country, they likely can't afford to use it, being that it would now be doing international roaming, assuming the phone is a GSM phone.

Re:"A lengthy and emotional feature..." (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044722)

This entire thing is stupid to have to do.

Various governments should be collecting that information. In places where the government can't or won't collect it, the UN should.

We need to establish national and international clearinghouses for that information.

It's a damn list of people. It's not rocket science to maintain.

This list would then be made available over the internet, and trusted organizations like the Red Cross could have access to put things in the list.

But it's not actually an 'internet' thing. It should be a damn national database somewhere, that people can connect to and put their name and contact info in, (Or write it down and have it put in by others, obviously.) and look up info for others.

The fact these people are having to do this is just absurd. At least they noticed that having two people are looking for each other not find each other is completely insane in this day and age.

Of course, the entire fact we still have refugees is pretty absurd also.

Re:"A lengthy and emotional feature..." (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 3 years ago | (#35046870)

Of course, the entire fact we still have refugees is pretty absurd also.

    Well, there are always going to be refugees. By definition, it is anyone displaced, or seeking refuge, for reasons including political, social, economic, and environmental reasons.

    So, anyone seeking refuge somewhere else, for whatever reason should be included. In my example, the building was a county owned building (a school). It was guarded by the local sheriffs department (4 deputies, if I remember correctly). Two Red Cross representatives were there. It was being staffed by just a few volunteers who showed up and offered to help, including me. If they didn't want the help, I would have turned around and driven home in the middle of a hurricane. :) I've lived through enough to know the basic facts. Stay away from anywhere that may get flooded, and avoid things falling on you, like trees, power lines, free-floating houses and flying cows. :) Just kidding on the last one. I've never seen a flying cow. And ... well, never a whole flying house, but I've seen large enough parts of them, where they may as well be a whole house.

    In another hurricane when I was younger, we had about a dozen "refugees" at our house. They were friends of the family. They stayed with us for about a week, until the flood waters went down and we had the opportunity to drive towards their houses, just to find their houses still under 4' of water. Well, the houses we could see. We couldn't get very close.

    These refugees don't have a record anywhere. Their family wouldn't know where to call. Our phones were out the whole time, but we did have power and running water (private well), and plenty of food. During the same storm, the house was hit by three tornadoes. One tore down our TV antenna (ya, it was a while back). One ripped trees out of our front yard. Another ripped trees out of the back yard. I can confidentially say they were tornadoes, since the antenna (and top of the tower) and trees weren't anywhere to be found after looking around about 1/2 mile in any direction.

    What if something happened? If the police got around to searching the flooded houses, and couldn't locate the owners/occupants, would they be presumed dead? If our house had been destroyed by a tornado, and the occupants (my family, and the dozen refugees) were tossed around into the surrounding woods, how long would the missing people simply be presumed to have left the area (or presumed dead)?

    They are things you think of after the event. At the time, we were concerned with getting to the safest place possible. At the time, evacuation centers weren't generally available. The folks who came to us came there because we were 10 miles inland, and 30 feet AMSL. That was much better than their 20 feet inland and 2 feet AMSL. Needless to say, they learned how wonderful their waterfront property really was. It's all fun and games, until ... well ... a hurricane flooded their house and destroyed everything they owned. Well, except for their car and the suitcase they had with some clothes and family photos.

    Sorry, I went off on a tangent. :) Myself, I make sure at least someone I personally trust knows where I am. The rest of the world still gets my disinformation. :) At least if I go missing, I'll make an effort to call my network of real friends and at least admit I'm still alive. Abandon in a strange land, no car, no cell phone, no Internet access? Be damned, I'll find a way back to civilization, even if I have to steal transportation and/or smuggle myself across some foreign and unfriendly border.

Re:"A lengthy and emotional feature..." (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 3 years ago | (#35049170)

Well, refugees from natural disasters are understandable.

I just meant it was absurd to have political refugees, people forced out of their house for political or religious reasons, in the modern era.

Anyway, with your situation, there should have been somewhere to notify. A web site, or even just a place they could call to leave information saying where they are. (Yes, I know they didn't have web sites back then, but now they do.)

Re:"A lengthy and emotional feature..." (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 3 years ago | (#35049978)

Anyway, with your situation, there should have been somewhere to notify. A web site, or even just a place they could call to leave information saying where they are. (Yes, I know they didn't have web sites back then, but now they do.)

    I think you're close to having the right answer. Damn, two Slashdot people discussed it, and figured out the solution.

    The problem would be, in the case of political refugees, who could you call that could be trusted with knowing where you are? I use friends and family. That's not necessarily a practical solution for everyone though. I do have some international contacts where messages could be left, so in the event of a national uprising in the United States, a contact in Europe could keep track of us.

    Other than friends, who do we trust? I'm sure if there were a sociopolitical uprising , I wouldn't exactly trust calling any government hotline. I guess as far as that goes, and knowing what the government is already doing [] , calling anywhere isn't "safe". Calling a neutral 3rd party to even just say "The following people are safe ..." would equate to "We aren't dead yet, send the brute squad to finish us off." I know, it wouldn't happen in America (ha), but say you were in Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan, and you are a citizen of that country, who happened to be on America's shit list, would you trust that your phone call wouldn't be an invitation for a UAV to target your location?

    "I am JW Smythe. I'm at 14 Main Street in Baghdad, with 3 other survivors. What do you mean hold the line? Oh look, a little airplane."

the magic behind google (1)

metalmaster (1005171) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044168)

Websites want to be found. Some even pay a lot of money to be found first

I dont wanna discourage the effort, but thats not always the case with refugees. They like to blend in and get on with their lives

Re:the magic behind google (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044504)

Yes, because refugee families are never separated. And on the rare occasion that they are, they prefer to forget about their parents, wives, and/or children and just want to "blend in and get on with their lives".

The site (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35044298)

Re:The site (1)

nadaou (535365) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044620)

Free & Open Source projects mentioned in the article:

Sahana: [] []

Ushahidi: [] []

Sahana is more for coordinating disaster relief, Ushahidi more for quickly getting the message out and visualizing where the hot spots are in a chaotic situation, be it unrest or disease breakout.
They compliment each other.

Just like big pharm ignoring tropical diseases, there's no money in it so big software has ignored this domain, the UN is too big and bureaucratized to move quickly, and so frankly it's up to us. PHP, Python, RDBMSs or crowd-sourcing expert? They can use your help, and it's a bit more productive use of your time than playing video games.

Re:The site (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35044726)

way to not answer the question...

"Q: 1.08 Why isn't Refugees United open source yet?

Refugees United was born as an "offline" open source project. When we started, we were two guys (now six guys and a girl in Copenhagen, joined by a much larger team worldwide) with a great idea that had the potential to positively impact thousands, if not millions, of lives. The open source approach came from the fact that we wanted to build the world's smallest refugee agency with the largest outreach, and to have the highest impact at the lowest cost.

One way to reach our objectives is to work with corporations around that world, including Ericsson, SAP, FedEx and others. The invaluable advice and expertise provided by these successful businesses - both the largest corporations and the smallest companies - have helped us to apply the structure and strategy of business to the passion and vision of an NGO.

Now the time has come for us to apply same structure to our software, and we have begun to collaborate with some of the wonderfully brilliant minds out there who wish to contribute and help us make a difference in the development of our technologies." []

these services already exist (1)

iamagloworm (816661) | more than 3 years ago | (#35044906)

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been connecting people separated by conflict and disaster since it was conceived in 1859.

Privacy ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35046452)

If you are going to make a secure website to connect refugees and live in Denmark, which has strict privacy laws like rest of Europe, then why register that company in USA where there are no real privacy laws ?

Also, their "Terms of Use" contains a clause that they can change them at any time and you agree to it just by visiting:
  "By using this site after we post any changes, you agree to accept those changes, whether or not you have reviewed them."
- such thing is completely illegal in EU and I guess in most of civilized world.

Additionally, on their website there is a FAQ entry on why it isn't open source and there is some meaningless bullshit about it being "offline open source project".

And what about the stalkers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35047400)

Nuff said.

Already have? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35056502)

Don't we already have a way to reconnect with our various circles of acquaintances, or are we intentionally ignoring FaceBook?

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