Ikea's line of flat-pack refugee shelters are going into production, the Swedish furniture maker announced this week, after being tested among refugee families in Ethiopia, Iraq, and Lebanon. The lightweight "Better Shelter" was developed under a partnership between the Ikea Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Each unit takes about four hours to assemble and is designed to last for three years — far longer than conventional refugee shelters, which last about six months.
That's important considering the prolonged refugee crisis that has unfolded across the Middle East. The ongoing war in Syria has spurred nearly 4 million people to leave their homes, according to UN figures, and as the conflict enters it's fifth year, there's still no end in sight. Many have sought refuge in neighboring countries, while others have tried to cross into Europe.
The crisis has put considerable strain on refugee camps, but the Ikea Foundation, Ikea's philanthropic arm, hopes the Better Shelter could make life a little easier for those staying there. Measuring about 188 square feet, each shelter accommodates five people and includes a rooftop solar panel that powers a built-in lamp and USB outlet. The structure ships just like any other piece of Ikea furniture, with insulated, lightweight polymer panels, pipes, and wires packed into a cardboard box. According to Ikea, it only takes about four hours to assemble.
"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, the Ikea Foundation's head of strategic planning and communications, said in a statement Tuesday. "We're incredibly proud that the Better Shelter is now available, so refugee families and children can have a safer place to call home."
Production of the Better Shelter is scheduled to begin soon. The UNHCR has agreed to buy 10,000 of the shelters, and will begin providing them to refugee families this summer.