Refugees SheltersThere are about 59 to 67 million refugees and asylum seekers around the world, forced to leave their home to pursue freedom and security. In this journey, shelter alternatives are short; the only real options are refugee camps that organizations have helped establish. In addition, given the geographic and demographic conditions of some camps, the facilities are not adequate to maintain minimum safety requirements.

To resolve this issue, different architecture companies have begun designing modern refugee shelters that can fulfill important needs in tough environments. The following companies have invented innovative shelters that provide basic services such as water, power and protection from extreme weather.

The Better Shelter

Ikea Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) developed the Better Shelter in 2015. It is a safe, long lasting and efficient home that can be built with just four people.

The Better Shelter’s base is made from a galvanized steel frame. The roof and walls are made of polyolefin panels, to protect refugees from strong sunlight exposure. An innovative feature of the facility is the PV System, which is a solar panel installed on the roof that charges an LED light inside of the shelter. The power that the PV obtains during the day can be used for a total of four hours at night. In addition, thanks to a USB port located on the LED light, refugees can charge their cellphones and other electronics with renewable electricity.

The adaptable characteristics of the Better Shelter redefine the space in refugee shelters since it can be placed in different locations. Sections can be added and removed in order to create longer structures or even hold medical equipment.

In 2015, 16,000 units of the Better Shelter were deployed for humanitarian operations world-wide, especially in Nepal and Iraq where there are a considerable number of refugees.


SURI is a refugee shelter that is easy to ensemble with a low-cost architecture modular system. These features make it faster to transport in many types of emergencies. Suricatta Systems, the creator of the shelter, defines SURI as a Shelter Unit for Rapid Installation.

One of the most important characteristics of the shelter is that each unit can be joined in different directions, providing flexibility in order to create distinct building forms. Moreover, SURI is lightweight, as its walls are designed to be refillable with local materials like sand or debris. Like the Better Shelter, SURI also employs solar panels that provide light inside the home.

An essential advantage of shelter for refugees is the water recollection system. SURI can store rainwater in a tank after it has passed through a filter, in order to convert it in drinkable water. It is expected that SURI will be used in emergencies such as earthquakes and flooding.

Shigeru Ban Architects

Shigeru Ban is a Japanese architect that uses principally recycled materials for his constructions. In 1992, when Rwanda fell into a violent civil war, Shigeru developed a refugee shelter made of cardboard to host Rwandan families that were affected by the war. The structure was convenient given its reusable features, as the buildings made from paper can be easily removed from certain places, and can be easily built again.

After the events in Rwanda, the architect has focused his research on creating facilities built by low-cost materials that can be used in emergencies. Shigeru’s shelters have been implemented in disasters such as the 2011 earthquake in Japan.

With continued philanthropic advancements from companies like these, it may be possible to completely reinvent the space within refugee shelters. In the near future, perhaps all refugees around the globe will have access to clean water, running electricity and a warm shelter.

Dario Ledesma

Photo: Flickr
As conflicts rage in various parts of the world, massive amounts of people are displaced. Around 21 million people are currently living as refugees, and over half can be found in just 10 countries: Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Given that only 2.5 percent of the global GDP comes from these nations, a plurality of foreign aid strategies needs to be funded and implemented to ensure that refugees can survive and one day regain control of their lives. One such strategy is developing innovative, cost-effective, comfortable and sustainable shelters to house refugees.

For all people, shelter is a basic survival need, and a great many refugees need better shelter than they currently have. The simple canvas tents used to house many refugees are prone to damage from floods, fires and high winds. delivers its shelters in cardboard boxes, and each shelter only takes about four people to assemble. All shelters are designed to be built by hand. They have sturdy steel frames covered by insulated walls and ceiling materials. Solar panels are installed to generate electricity that can be utilized for anything from providing light to charging electronic devices. In addition to these elements, safety features like mosquito netting and locking doors are now available.

Last year, provided housing for 10,000 families across the globe, and the organization hopes to enlarge that number this year. Thanks to a partnership with IKEA and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), its goals looks achievable.

Refugees are forced to leave behind their homes, jobs, schools and dreams to flee dangerous circumstances. It is up to those that have plenty to aid those who have little. Efforts to provide better shelters for refugees need generous support if they are to continue improving the lives of people without a place to call home.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

Congo RefugeesAlmost half a million people have fled the Central African Republic (CAR) as a result of ongoing violence occurring in the region. Among those refugees fleeing violence in the CAR, 110,000 have sought shelter in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The support shown by Congolese for the neighbors from CAR is exemplary. We should remember that this is one of the poorer regions in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the hosts already live below the poverty line,” Stefano Severe, the United Nations Refugee Regional Representative for Central Africa said on the organization’s website.

The CAR has been plagued by widespread conflict since 2013, when rebel group Seleka marched on the capital, overthrowing the president, François Bozizé, bringing instability and unrest to the country. The political struggle quickly led to violence among the Muslim and Christian communities in the area, as rival militia groups unleashed rounds of terror upon the region.

Amnesty International reported that international war crimes and crimes against humanity have regularly been committed throughout the nation, “including killings, mutilation of bodies, abductions, recruitment and use of child soldiers and forced displacement of populations.”

According to the United Nations News Centre, intercommunal violence in the CAR erupted in September, after nine months of improved stability in the country, killing 130 people and raising the number of internally displaced persons in the area by 18 percent. This led to a mass exodus of individuals out of the nation. Many of these residents have fled across the Ubangai River, bordering the DRC, with the aim of escaping the conflict occurring in the region.

While the majority of these individuals reside in refugee camps, approximately a third of the refugees in the DRC are staying with local Congolese citizens that are reaching out to help the displaced individuals, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Residents of a town named Zongo have come together to improve the lives of the people flowing into their community. Located on the banks of the Ubangi River, directly across from Bangui – the capital of the CAR, the town is often the first place refugees enter after they flee the city.

“We are Congolese. We always offer shelter to someone who had to flee,” Zongo resident Blandine Ngeki said to the UNHCR.

Schools in the border town have increasingly stepped up their efforts to take in refugee children who are eager to continue their education, despite the lack of monetary funding they receive. In particular, the Mohamad Primary School in Zongo has set up six new temporary classrooms to give educational opportunities to the displaced children in the area.

“UNHCR gave us some plastic sheeting and benches. We have eight teachers,” Abdulaye Livana, the school’s manager, said to the U.N. Refugee Agency. “Only finding money for their salaries is not easy.”

Health centers throughout the area have also given aid to the influx of displaced persons entering the community, despite the lack of money they have.

“Sometimes, the refugees do not have much,” said Jacob Wakanza, manager of a health center that frequently subsidizes costs to help refugees in need. “It can be less than the treatment would normally cost. We try to show solidarity. They are human beings.”

The UNHCR’s ability to help refugees fleeing violence in the CAR has been hindered by a lack of funding. Earlier this year, the U.N. organization called on donor nations to pledge $500 million in aid to help the refugees fleeing the CAR and Nigeria, as well as the neighboring communities that are hosting them.

“UNHCR is doing its best to help local communities in this situation, including those near the border and next to the refugee camps,” Severe said.

Lauren Lewis

Sources: UNHCR 1, UNHCR 2, AllAfrica, UN News Centre, Leadership News, Newsweek, Amnesty International
Photo: Live58