People crouched outside of two Refugee Housing Units

Refugee Housing Units installed in Kigoma Refugee Camp in Tanzania, April 2019. ©UNHCR/Clemence Eliah

An innovative solution offering dignified and safe shelter for refugees

Conflict, violence and persecution forces families all over the world to leave everything behind and start over in a new country. Traumatized and exhausted after the ordeals they endure, refugees need a safe haven in a world of uncertainty. That is why UNHCR, Better Shelter and the IKEA Foundation partnered up to design the Refugee Housing Unit (RHU), an innovative housing solution which is now being deployed to refugee settlements around the world.

Throughout its development, special attention was given to the important feedback provided by people forced to flee. RHUs feature a sturdy steel frame, strong walls, a lockable door, electricity and other everyday functionalities that can return some normalcy for refugees.

Since the start of this year, more than 1,800 RHUs have been installed in Brazil, Chad and Tanzania. Distribution is carefully planned, prioritizing the most vulnerable, including children, women and older persons, people with serious medical conditions and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

Struggling to survive away from home, refugee families require secure shelters that give them the peace of mind they need knowing they are safe. Features as simple as being able to turn on a light at night and locking the door before going to sleep can go a long way in making people feel safe. This is especially crucial for women and girls who are at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

Benefits of RHUs: Improved fire safety and ventilation, Solid & durable structure to survive harsh weather conditions, integrated solar energy system for light and power, ability to be repaired and imporved over time, flexibility of being disassembled, transported and reassembled

RHUs make the difference for Burundian refugees in Tanzania

A family sits outside of an RHU, Refugee Housing Unit, for a portrait

Gloriouse Saguye (seated far right) is seen with his family in their Refugee Housing Unit in Kigoma Refugee Camp in Tanzania. ©UNHCR/Clemence Eliah

Tanzania currently hosts more than 320,000 refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. UNHCR’s focus in the region has been on providing refugees who still live in emergency shelters and tents with RHUs. Today, more than 4,000 refugees in the region are already benefitting from this shelter solution.

Gloriouse Saguye fled Burundi at the age of 67 when two of his children were killed by armed groups during political violence in 2016. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he walked for four long days to reach the border of Tanzania, where he was welcomed by UNHCR. He lived in an emergency shelter with his wife and his four children for almost three years, and received a safe, sturdy RHU this year.

I feel very happy and more comfortable here than where I was staying before. I also feel safer and secure because this shelter is more durable and has locks. I know that when it rains, I will be protected.

— Gloriouse Saguye

A woman stands in her RHU, Refugee Housing Unit, and poses at a curtain partition

Maria Barayavuga fled Burundi in 2016 when she was threatened by armed groups. She is shown here inside her Refugee Housing Unit in Kigoma Refugee Camp in Tanzania. ©UNHCR/Clemence Eliah

“I moved into this place in February 2019. I felt really happy when I received it. It is a nice size and I feel safe because it has a lockable door and solar light. I feel honoured I am staying here and have more dignity because it is enough for me.”

— Maria Barayavuga


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