In 2000 an Afghan family paid a trafficker to take them over the border into Pakistan and then on to Denmark or Sweden. But when the trafficker arrived, there was only one spot in the van. The family sent 12-year-old Mansour alone, believing that they would soon follow.
After a three- to four-month journey—with a month hiding beneath the floorboards of a Russian flat—Mansour arrived in Copenhagen. The rest of his family never did.
By 2005, when he met Danish brothers David and Christopher Mikkelsen, Mansour hadn’t spoken to his family in five years. Inquiries through official channels brought no new information. Mansour heard the first news of his family when, on a trip to Pakistan paid for by the Mikkelsens, he found the trafficker who had smuggled him out of Afghanistan. He was able to get a phone number for his brother, Ali, who had been sold into slavery in Russia. The two were briefly reunited in Moscow, where Ali remains.
Their friendship with Mansour led David and Christopher Mikkelsen to found Refugees United, a free, online, global search tool that allows refugees to reconnect with lost loved ones.
To use the service, refugees create a profile by entering their name, nickname, initials, or other identifying characteristics that their family members would recognize. They can then browse profiles, looking for the people they’ve lost. With a bit of luck, the service can work: Yonas Samuel fled Sudan and was living in Brazil. The only bits of information on his Refugees United profile were “Espresso” (because he drinks a lot of it) and “Sudan.” But it was enough for his wife and daughter, living in Manchester, to find him.
The search tool is currently offered in 23 languages, and refugees can also access the service on simple SMS-enabled mobile phones. Refugees United is now working with over 65,000 refugees and aims to have 300,000 by the end of 2012.