Shelter

A place to feel safe and secure again.

Photo: ©UNHCR/Clemence Eliah

Shelter is a vital survival mechanism in times of crisis or displacement. It is also key to restoring personal security, self-sufficiency and dignity.You can help shelter people forced to flee their homes. 

Our world is currently experiencing the largest displacement crisis of our era. Driven by the Syria crisis and conflicts in South Sudan, Central African Republic and Central America, the number of people forced to flee their homes is rising every day. 

To escape the violence, families leave behind everything. 

Millions of families are arriving in refugee camps with nothing or struggling in sub-standard housing and half-built shelters. We believe all refugees deserve to live in safe shelter and housing. Learn more about why nobody should be left outside. 

Only UNHCR has the reach and expertise to tackle this crisis and shelter millions of families—but we can’t do this alone.

Why Shelter?

Protects health

by providing a place to hang a mosquito net to prevent malaria or lay a floor mat to protect from the cold ground. 

Helps restart lives

by providing an address where refugees can receive identification documents and support services, register their children for school or start a business.

Provides safety

from the weather and for women and girls at risk of rape and sexual violence and children vulnerable to exploitation.

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Protects privacy

for families to bond together under the one roof and take comfort in each other. 

Provides an emotional base

to plan for their future. A secure shelter allows families to work, study and live life as normally as possible. 

Protects valued possessions

so that families can treasure the few items that they were able to take with them. 

Shelter in urban areas

In urban areas, many refugees share accommodation or live in non-functional public buildings, collective centres and informal types of settlements. Conditions are often substandard and providing shelter poses major challenges. In rural settings, delivering protection and humanitarian assistance through refugee camps is common. 

More than 6.6 million refugees and people in refuge-like situations live in camps, among them 4.6 million in planned/managed camps and about 2 million in self-settled camps. While camps can be practical, particularly during emergencies, encampment results in a range of problems, including aid dependency and isolation.

Setting up camps

UNHCR and the wider humanitarian community are not in favour of creating camps because we think other arrangements offer a more normal life for people forced to flee. When there is no alternative, we design camps, sites or settlements carefully to keep people safe and give them shelter. We also try to offer services to the host community. 

A properly-laid-out camp protects the environment and helps prevent fires and outbreak of disease. In a well-designed camp, displaced people do not have to walk too far to get food, water or medical care. Water points and latrines are well-lit and close to homes so that girls and women, especially, will not be exposed to danger.

How does UNHCR help?

As well as distributing tents from our three centres in Dubai, Copenhagen and Durban, UNHCR also provides materials such as plastic sheeting and matting that can be used to make a simple shelter. In extended situations, we fund the rehabilitation of communal shelters or construction of new homes and provide the displaced with the materials they need to build a home themselves under self-help schemes.

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Please help refugee families in need.

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