Furniture chain Ikea has finally received permission to put up special tents in Lebanon to protect Syrian refugees from the harsh winter weather. It took a lot of effort to get this humanitarian aid campaign going, as the government is afraid the Syrians will stay permanently.
The Ikea Refugee Housing Units were designed in collaboration with the UN refugee agency UNHCR. As is the case with most Ikea products, the housing units are ready-to-assemble packages with isolated polymer foam plating, attached to a lightweight and flexible steel frame. The ‘houses’ have solar-powered lighting and heating and can be built in a mere four hours.
It took Ikea Foundation and the UNHCR three years to develop the concept, already costing 3.4 million euro. The housing concept is still in its testing phase and costs 5,500 euro a piece. After thorough testing in Iraq, Ethiopia and now Lebanon, the goal is to mass produce them, so that the average cost drops below 800 euro.
More comfort and privacy
Traditional refugee tents have to be replaced every six months and are basically just a sail on poles, while a Housing Unit has a three year lifespan and offers quite a bit more comfort and privacy.
This last part is what bothered the Lebanese government, according to Roberta Russo, UNHCR’s Beirut spokesperson: “After what they went through with the Palestinians, they want to make sure the presence of Syrians is temporary.” More than half a million Palestinians still reside in Lebanon, after the country decided to “temporarily” help them when Israel was founded in 1948.
It took the UN 6 months to convince the Lebanese government to allow these special tents to be built. Half of the two million Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, putting a serious strain on the country's economy.
(Translated by Gary Peeters)