Ikea’s Newly Designed Refugee Shelters Are a Game Changer

The units are spacious, have solar panels, and can last an average of three years.

(Photo: Courtesy BetterShelter.org)

Apr 10, 2015
Celeste Hoang is the Film & TV Integration Editor for TakePart.

Refugee camps across Iraq are about to get a Swedish touch.

The United Nations’ refugee agency just ordered 10,000 shelters designed by Ikea, its largest corporate partner, set to be shipped out and built this summer. Produced by Better Shelter, a social enterprise started by the Ikea Foundation, the design marries form, function, and sustainability. One shelter can last an average of three years, compared with traditional tents, which typically last only a few months.

Each shelter is fitted with solar panels, mosquito nets, lights, and ventilation, reports news site IRIN. There are also lockable doors, a key feature, as lack of privacy at refugee camps can leave women and children vulnerable to sexual assault. Prototypes were previously tested among 40 refugee families in Iraq and Ethiopia. The structures offer extra space—they’re 57 feet square and six feet tall—allowing family members to stand upright in the space, as opposed to crouching or lying down in tents.

Riyad with sons, daughters and mother in law inside a Better Shelter prototype, Kawergosk refugee camp, Iraq, March 2015. (Photo: Courtesy BetterShelter.org)

“The refugees have been involved in the process from the beginning,” Anders Rexare Thulin, managing director of Better Shelter, told IRIN. “We have received regular feedback from families living in the structures, and we made sure we incorporated their comments in our design.”

Assembly of Better Shelter prototype, Hilawyen Refugee camp, Dollo Ado, Ethiopia in July 2013. (Photo: R.Cox/ Courtesy BetterShelter.org)

There are more than two million refugees and internally displaced persons in Iraq, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In recent years, the agency has also worked with Ikea to provide solar lamps to refugees in Ethiopia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Chad, and Jordan.

“Putting refugee families and their needs at the heart of this project is a great example of how democratic design can be used for humanitarian value,” Jonathan Spampinato, head of the Ikea Foundation’s strategic planning and communications, said in a statement. “We are incredibly proud that the Better Shelter is now available so refugee families and children can have a safer place to call home.”

More on TakePart

Watch 23 Years of Climate Negotiations in 3 Minutes