Ikea’s Getting Into the Refugee Shelter Business

Ikea’s latest installments are popping up in Lebanon, where around one million Syrians have sought refuge from the violence plaguing their own country

Ikea Refugee Shelter
The inside of a newly assembled Ikea temporary home. Image: IKEA Foundation

Ikea has been looking beyond affordable assemble-it-yourself furniture and to full-on assemble-it-yourself housing. The company has been toying with the idea of pre-fab homes and working on a mini-city in London. Now, the Swedish furniture company has teamed up with the United Nations to develop an Ikea furniture equivalent to refugee housing, the "Ikea Refugee Housing Unit." Wired describes the units:

Ikea’s prototype is still simple—the rectangular unit is built from plastic panels that clip onto a metal wire and pipe frame—but the hut-like shelters are an upgrade in nearly every way from canvas and plastic tents. At 17.5 square meters, Ikea’s shelter is about twice as large as tents and can comfortably house five people. And thanks to hardened wall panels, its lifespan is expected to be three years, though they could last even longer depending on weather conditions.

The houses currently cost around $7,000, but if they're produced in large enough batches, the company thinks the price can drop to as low as $1,000 each. In comparison, Wired continues, tents cost around $500 but have to be replaced every six months or so. 

Last summer, Ikea began assembling  the 188-square foot units for some of the 37,000 Somali refugees living in Ethiopia, Der Spiegel reports. People living in the camp admit that "it's a lot of work" to assemble the houses—a familiar complaint for any Ikea customer—but that the houses are much preferred over the typical tents.

Ikea's latest installments are popping up in Lebanon, where around one million Syrians have sought refuge from the violence currently plaguing their own country. 

Lebanon, however, is not totally on board with this development, Time writes. It took around six months for the government to reluctantly agree to a trial run of the units, and now progress towards installation of those houses is off to another slow start. In this case, the house's longevity is actually part of the problem. Time:

When Palestinians fled Israel in 1948, Lebanon welcomed them for what was supposed to be a temporary stay. More than 60 years later, the Palestinian population has reached half a million. Lebanese authorities don’t want to risk a repeat. “In Lebanon the government has been reluctant to set up any structure that has any resemblance of permanence,” says Roberta Russo, UNHCR’s Beirut-based spokesperson. “After what they went through with the Palestinians, they want to make sure the presence of Syrians is temporary.” And that means that even an Ikea house that that can be put together — or taken apart — in less than four hours raised hackles.

In the meantime, around 125,000 people are still relying on various makeshift tents and tarps despite winter's impending approach. Ikea and the U.N. are determined to push ahead with plans to install the houses, not just in Lebanon but in refugee camps around the world. Here, Ikea gets into a bit more detail about the shelters and the company's global goals:

Designing a better home for refugee children

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Conflict in Syria Is Damaging the Country's Historic Sites 
Looters Are Selling Artifacts to Fund War in Syria 

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