‘Better Shelter’ tents for refugees: A home away from home

The Better Shelter project provides safer and practical new generation tents for displaced people who fled armed conflicts and disasters with aim of making homes away from home.

Photo by: IKEA Foundation
Photo by: IKEA Foundation

Better Shelter prototypes in Kobe refugee camp, Dollo Ado, Ethiopia, 2013.

Updated May 30, 2016

Hardship and suffering follow refugees who embark on their journey in hope of a better life as they flee death and destruction in their homelands.

Having no place to call home and carrying whatever they can in one single bag, refugees have been hoping for positive outcomes from the first World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey.

The worst humanitarian crisis of our time has forced approximately 200,000 people to flee war and persecution, so far, in 2016 alone and the numbers keep growing, as the humanitarian crisis deepens day by day.

Today, millions of people, who expect to find a warm house end up living in temporary paper-thin tents in refugee camps around the world. Many of whom are not lucky enough to leave the refugee camps to find permanent housing.

While world leaders and humanitarian relief agencies keep discussing ways to find a solution to end the emergency crisis, the United Nation’s Refugee Agency UNHCR said that there are projects that have been implemented to make the lives of refugees as easier.

A UN supported project, which aims to maintain safer accommodation for refugees is "Better Shelter."

UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation both support the project. 

New Generation tents, designed by Better Shelter, in support of UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation.

The project was presented at the World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istabul, Turkey on May 23, 24.

Better Shelter’s Project designers believe that it is possible to make the lives of refugees easier with practical solutions that can be adapted to the humanitarian sector.

TRT World interviewed Better Shelter’s Head of Marketing and Communications director, Marta Terne, to learn details of the project.

New Generation tent designed by Better Shelter in support of UNHCR and IKEA Foundation.

TRT World: Can you tell us about the Better Shelter project? What is it about? What is the aim of it?

Marta Terne: Better Shelter project is a modular temporary refugee shelter, designed by the social enterprise, Better Shelter, together with the UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation. So it’s a joint project that all three parties were pretty much involved [in] developing for five years. It is supposed to be a new generation of shelters. So it has hard walls and a high ceiling, it has a door and four windows, solar powered light that can also charge your phone, as well as USB ports. It provides more safety and dignity for the people who live inside. It was also developed together with feedback from refugees. So they could look to their needs and say what they needed in a shelter and we try to accommodate for that.

TRT World: Are there refugees that have started to use these shelters already? 

New Generation tents designed by Better Shelter with the support of UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation

Terne: Yes, there are. We started shipping out last June, 2015 and now we shipped about fifteen thousand units. Most of them are used in Iraq, Erbil, Sulaimani, Bagdad and Greece and different areas. Such as in countries in Africa, Djibouti, Chad, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and in Nepal where several of these are used as mobile clinics by Doctors Without Borders.

TRT World: Are those shelters for long term use? How long do refugees stay in those shelters?

Terne: They last about three years, which is significantly longer than a tent. However, if you look at protracted refugee situations today, they go on about 17 years, which means people live in those camps very long as well. The shelters are designed for temporary use, also because you’re not allowed to build permanent structures in many camps. Even though people live there for generations. So it’s politically a very difficult task.

New Generation tent designed by Better Shelter in support of UNHCR and IKEA Foundation

TRT World: We know it’s not a regular tent, but what makes it better and long-lasting? What is it made of?

Terne: It is made with a very strong steel frame, which is mounted to the ground with ground anchors. This can last for 10 years. Then it has semi hard walls that we put on. There are panels as well, which are breakable, however you can exchange it for a new one and the shelter is like new again. With a tent, if something breaks down, the whole tent is unusable. This shelter is also very stable and robust. If you’re inside the tent and it’s raining or it’s windy, you can hear the entire tent blowing and flapping. But, this structure is very strong, steady and robust. And, as I mentioned, there is a door that you can lock with a padlock, it’s nothing like a usual tent.

TRT World: So, is it safer than usual tents?

Terne: Yes, it is safer. You can also have lights inside during night time without people seeing your silhouette or what you are doing. Which is also a problem with tents. These tents have more privacy.

Author: Bilge Nesibe Kotan