Improvements on the Horizon for Refugee Camps

Refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Hatch

An effort to find more durable temporary housing has resulted in an unlikely partnership. The Refugee Housing Unit, a Swedish design firm, recognized that IKEA would be a great resource for help sourcing construction materials as well as coordinating logistics and efficient packing methods. The IKEA Foundation helped the Refugee Housing Unit connect to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and together the three have designed and built a set of plastic single-family shelters.

These structures are amazing. Check out this video to see one and learn more:

Each year, millions of refugees flee their homes to escape conflict. Here in Louisville, it’s difficult to understand the life of a refugee. As we sit in our homes and offices, we are unlikely to fully grasp the reality faced by people who have no choice but to flee their homes and start over in a new country.

Beyond the shock of leaving home, losing possessions and cutting off contact with family and friends, there are new areas to navigate, language barriers, and adjustments to new temporary living arrangements. For many refugees, camps are usually the first line of shelter, and the living conditions there are less than ideal.

The Christian Science Monitor estimates that 3.5 million refugees currently live not in homes, but in tents. In areas with harsh climates (such as Ethiopia or Iraq), even the strongest of canvas tents rarely lasts a full year. And the stark reality is that some families live in those tents for several years before they resettle or are able to return to their original homes.

The IKEA structure is made of hard panels that can be assembled with no tools, and is said to last up to six times as long as a tent. Right now, the structures are more costly, but mass production will lower the cost to a comparable level. Testing is under way in Ethiopia now, and the residents will be able to give feedback on their experience to help improve future designs.

This is a great example of private companies partnering with nonprofit organizations to improve and enrich the lives of those in need. We hope that we’ll hear success stories about this and other durable shelters in the coming months.

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