Ikea Foundation Builds Shelters for Refugees

Better Shelter refugees IkeaAlmost 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict, or persecution and are now living in refugee camps. The average stay in a United Nations refugee camp is 17 years. Swedish furniture maker Ikea is doing its part to help with the refugee crisis that is affecting countries around the globe.

Johan Karlsson, a Swedish industrial designer, volunteered with Sweden’s Refugee Services in camps in the Middle East and Africa in 2010. He worked modifying existing refugee shelters and found that they were often cramped, dark, damp, and poorly made. The shelters could easily blow over, be flooded, or fall apart.

Karlsson designed the Better Shelter to improve conditions for refugees. The shelters last a minimum of three years. They are simple self-standing modular white shelters that have peaked roofs. They have a floor area of 17.5 square meters and are designed to house a family of five.

The buildings are constructed with lightweight plastic and metal and are easy to ship. They can be assembled by hand in a few hours with no special tools required. They can also be disassembled and reused. A solar-powered energy system on the roof can provide energy for lights or cell phones.

Karlsson took his design idea to Ikea. It was rejected as a business model but forwarded to the Ikea Foundation, its humanitarian arm. Karlsson founded Better Shelter with seed money and support from the foundation. He partnered with the United Nations to provide temporary shelters where they were most needed, including in Iraq, Lebanon, Chad, and Ethiopia. The shelters have also been used in Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Hungary, among other countries.

Ikea can produce up to 2,500 of the shelters per month. Demand has exceeded supply for several months. Karlsson and his team were not expecting the refugee crisis that is currently impacting Europe when they began creating the Better Shelter five years ago.