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IKEA builds solar powered shelter for refugees

IKEA has partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Refugee Housing Unit to design and build a better home for refugee families.

The shelters used for refugees often last as little as six months, due to weather impacts, despite the fact that usually stay in camps for several years.

The Refugee Housing Unit had been working to create better emergency shelters since 2008. “The Indian Ocean tsunami was still a fresh memory, and ‘Building back better’ was the motto among our humanitarian partners—meaning that humanitarian aid should not only contribute to saving lives, but also to creating sustainable communities after disasters,” said Johan Karlsson, Refugee Housing Unit Project Manager.

Credit: IKEA Foundation

Credit: IKEA Foundation

They knew what kind of situations refugees faced, and when IKEA joined the project this year, the Swedish furniture manufacturer brought expertise in the how to make the houses easy to set up and transport.

The IKEA Foundation sought the backing of UNHCR, creating a groundbreaking partnership.

“By introducing us to the Refugee Housing Unit, the Foundation enabled the two organisations to share each other’s expertise and experience to create a better shelter,” said Olivier Delarue, of UNHCR’s Innovation initiative.

The prototype shelters are now being tested by refugee families in Ethiopia; the groups hope that after adjustments are made according to the testers’ feedback, they’ll be able to deploy the shelters widely.

The new shelters take just four hours to put together, are twice the size of current tents (fitting about five people) and are expected to last five years. And each shelter has a light and USB outlet that are powered by a thin-film solar sheeting.

“[T]he IKEA Foundation is looking for ways to create a better everyday life for poor families who have lost their homes and everything familiar to them,” said Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation.


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