As per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the global refugee population crossed 20 million in 2015, the first time it did so since 1992 . The report also indicates that one person in every 122 across the world has been forced to flee their home. Further, it is becoming increasingly difficult for these refugees to go back home soon. This means that increasing number of refugees are having to stay in temporary shelters for longer.

Typically, refugees in urban areas tend to live in poor facilities such as non-functional public buildings, slums and informal settlements. In rural areas, agencies like UNHCR provide temporary accommodation. Each individual housing unit is usually made of cloth, supported by poles and chords. Tents can become quite uncomfortable during extreme weather conditions such as peak summer, peak winter or when events such as cyclones occur. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to provide better temporary shelters to refugees; allowing them to live in a dignified manner.

A few institutions have tried to plug the gap in good quality temporary accommodation for refugees. In this article, we choose two of them for deeper understanding; one from India and another from abroad.

Ikea Foundation’s Better Shelter ( was recently featured in Time Magazine as one of the best inventions of 2016 . Better Shelter is an emergency shelter that offers a better alternative to the tent structures that are currently prevalent in refugee camps. Its salient features include: –

  • Built-in solar panel on the roof with a battery that can power one light during the night inside the shelter and also allow for charging of mobile phones through a USB port.
  • Unlike cloth, the walls are hard and opaque. It provides shelter against the elements and offers privacy to its residents.
  • Four windows are built-in to the shelter and their location is customizable to suit local needs. Unlike tents, air exchange can take place when needed. Light can be allowed in, when required.
  • Lockable doors provide security to residents and their belongings.
  • Specifically designed to be easy to transport. Total weight of 169 kg per shelter. Packaging is in the form of two flat packs per shelter (around 80 to 85 kg each); volumetrically efficient.
  • Modular; two shelters can be combined to make a bigger shelter for applications like classrooms, clinics, hosting larger families etc.
  • Easy to assemble, dismantle and move; just like tents. It takes 4 people around 4 to 8 hours to assemble one shelter.
  • Better fire resistance than tents.
  • The frames are made of steel and the panels from plastics. All of them are recyclable.
  • If any component of the shelter is damaged, the damaged single part alone can be replaced.
  • Another similar solution has been developed by civil engineering students at IIT Madras. In this design, the frames are made of steel while the panels are metal sheets insulated by foam (unlike plastics used in Better Shelter). A major improvement in this design over Better Shelter is the provision for a toilet that can be attached to the housing unit. The toilet can be attached to one side of the shelter and comes with necessary fittings. Spaces have also been provided for electricity and water supply.

    Apart from the above, a number of startups are involved in developing improved shelters for refugees . Some of them include:

    We hope that some of these technologies would become more prevalent, providing an improved lifestyle for refugees.