Thousands of Refugees Will Soon be Calling These IKEA Shelters Home

Thousands of Refugees Will Soon be Calling These IKEA Shelters Home

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Nancy Mitchell
Apr 27, 2015
(Image credit: IKEA Foundation)

For years IKEA has been working hard at creating furniture designs that are cheap to produce, easy to assemble, and will pack neatly into a cardboard box. Now they're putting that ingenuity to work designing for some of the people who need it most: displaced persons living in refugee camps around the world.

(Image credit: IKEA Foundation)

Designers working for the IKEA Foundation have created a house — specifically, a 188 square foot shelter — that flatpacks like your IKEA furniture, and can be assembled (by a team of four people) in four to eight hours. The shelter is made of a polymer that is unusually lightweight and sturdy, and it has a solar cell on the roof that can power a light, located within the home, or a cell phone charger.

Each year millions of people are forced to leave their homes by war or natural disasters. Many of them wind up in refugee camps, a situation that's intended to be temporary. But the average family stays in a camp for an astonishing 12 years. The IKEA shelters, which last much longer and are twice as large as the tents in which most refugees live, offer refugee families more stability, more security, and a place that feels a little more like home.

The IKEA shelter prototype in use in Ethiopia.
(Image credit: IKEA Foundation)

Prototype forms of the shelters have been tested by 40 families in refugee camps in Iraq and Ethiopia, and they're now in production and available for purchase by humanitarian organizations. The shelters currently cost $1,150 each, but that price may drop below $1,000 as demand increases. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has already ordered 10,000 of them, which means the new shelters may be housing families as early as this summer. It's a great reminder of the difference that good design — and a little caring — can make.

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To put the global refugee crisis into perspective, you can do a quick Google search to give yourself an idea of what the typical refugee camp looks like. And this article from Borgen magazine has a list of the world's ten largest refugee camps, the largest of which houses almost half a million people.

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