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Flat-Pack Shelter

Syrian refugee Mona poses for a photograph with her daughter Bushra in their shelter at the Azraq refugee camp in Azraq, Jordan.

Syrian refugee Mona poses for a photograph with her daughter Bushra in their shelter at the Azraq refugee camp in Azraq, Jordan. © UNHCR / Shawn Baldwin

Imagine living in a tent—for years on end. It’s freezing in the winter; broiling in the summer and not always reliable in the rain or during high winds. This is a reality for millions of refugees and an ongoing challenge for UNHCR, tasked with providing shelter for people displaced through conflict or natural disaster.

But through a unique collaboration between the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR, the iconic UNHCR tent may soon be replaced by an innovative new temporary shelter known as Better Shelter.

After testing and feedback from refugee families in Iraq and Ethiopia, 10,000 Better Shelters have been ordered by UNHCR for use in refugee camps around the globe. “[Its] deployment will ensure dramatic improvement to the lives of many people affected by crises,” said Shaun Scales, Chief of Shelter and Settlement, at UNHCR.

The Better Shelter meets the difficult challenge of providing comfortable, durable and affordable housing in several different ways. Designers from the Housing for All Foundation, a not-for-profit offshoot established by the IKEA Foundation, have created an innovative shelter with the following key features:

  • It’s a solid but lightweight structure, insulated and ventilated
  • It can withstand an impact, flooding, winds, sandstorms and extreme heat
  • It’s shipped in flat packs and can be assembled on-site without additional tools
  • A built-in solar panel powers a small ceiling lamp and can charge a mobile phone
  • It lasts three years, compared to a tent’s six-month lifespan
  • It’s economical and affordable

Jonathan Spampinato, who is head of strategic planning and Communications at the IKEA Foundation is enthusiastic about the Better Shelter initiative. “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.  We are incredibly proud that the Better Shelter is now available, so refugee families and children can have a safer place to call home,” he said.