Network: Lost and found in Bosnia

CD-Roms are helping to reunite families torn apart by the war in former Yugoslavia. By David Bowen
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The CD-Rom started life as a serious tool, storing vast quantities of architectural specifications, legal documents and the like. Then as multimedia developed, it became fun and frivolous. Now it is being rediscovered as a seriously useful device.

In former Yugoslavia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been using CD-Roms to bring families back together. As part of Operation Reunite, details of 6,800 refugee children have been gathered on to one regularly updated disc, which is distributed to the UNHCR's "consultation points" across the region.

Mrs Filovic, a Bosnian Muslim, was desperately looking for her children, Mirsad, 15, and his sister, Mirsada, 17. She had drawn a blank with the Red Cross, but saw an advertisement for the UN programme. She visited the consultation point at Zenica and looked through the computer database. Her children were not there, but she left her details and when the teenagers appeared three months later, she was immediately informed. Mirsada is now back at home, while her mother knows that Mirsad, who had been captured by the Serbs, is working in Zagreb.

Branka Naglia, assistant on Operation Reunite, says that the CD-Roms - produced by Bull, EDS and Fulcrum Technologies - speed up the registration process.

"They are great and easy to operate," she says. When a child is brought into a refugee centre, a picture is taken and details such as name, place of birth, nickname and eye colour are entered.

Small children may only know their nickname, but a parent searching by this, or by physical details, should be able to identify them. If you key in the nickname "Miki", plus blue eyes and blond hair, you are led immediately to five-year-old Miroslav "Miki" Bubulj, who is staying at Save the Children Fund in Belgrade.

Children are kept on the database even after they have been reunited. With so much uncertainty, Ms Naglia says ominously, it makes sense to keep as many records as possible.