Designing a better home for refugees, inspired by IKEA and financed by IKEA Foundation

For the past two years, the IKEA Foundation has been driving a unique collaboration with a team of Swedish designers and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to design a better refugee shelter for the millions of children and families forced to flee their homes every year.

On World Refugee Day (20 June 2013), the IKEA Foundation will unveil a two-year long project to design a better refugee shelter, driven by the Foundation’s belief that every child deserves a safe place to call home. One prototype that is currently under review will be used and tested by refugees living in UNHCR refugees camps in Ethiopia and in Northern Iraq.

The project is a unique collaboration between the Refugee Housing Unit (RHU – a team of Swedish designers) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) orchestrated by the IKEA Foundation. Testing in the field by refugees will help shape a final shelter design, to ensure it can be a dignified and secure housing alternative for the millions of vulnerable refugee families fleeing violence, conflict, persecution and natural disasters.

The shelters have been designed to give a longer-lasting alternative to currently-used refugee tents, which typically have a life span of only six months and are not always suitable for housing refugee families who can live in camps for over 12 years. The new shelters last years, offering both durability and dignity and give refugee families a more comfortable and secure place to call home during a time of enormous personal upheaval. They are modular, offer better security and ventilation and each unit has a renewable energy source.

The unique collaboration has been organised and financed by the IKEA Foundation, bringing together the expertise of the RHU and the knowledge and need of the UN agency mandated to protect refugees around the globe.

By sourcing feedback from the families who are actually occupying them and adopting a collaborative approach to the project, this partnership of private sector and humanitarian organisations hopes to make further improvements to the prototype shelters.

Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, said: “Just as IKEA looks for innovative ways to make everyday home life better for many people, the IKEA Foundation, along with our partner organisations, is looking to do the same for vulnerable families, who have lost their homes and everything that is familiar to them.”

Olivier Delarue, who is leading the UNHCR Innovation initiative, said: “By funding the development and linking us to the RHU, the IKEA Foundation has enabled the three

organisations to share each other’s expertise and experiences to create a better home for refugee families, which UNHCR is now testing in the field. We would not have been able to do this without the IKEA Foundation’s knowledge and investment.”

Johan Karlsson, Project Manager at the Refugee Housing Unit said: “Our partnership with the IKEA Foundation has certainly been vital for this project. As well as providing funding, they have also unlocked the potential for us to work on a global scale, by helping us to secure the support of a major humanitarian organisation. Through a collaborative approach, the RHU, UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation have together developed something which we hope will give comfort and security to vulnerable families across the world.”

For more information about the IKEA Foundation and this innovative project, please visit:


About the IKEA Foundation

The IKEA Foundation aims to improve opportunities for children and youth in the world’s poorest communities by funding holistic, long-term programmes that can create substantial, lasting change. The Foundation works with strong strategic partners applying innovative approaches to achieve large-scale results in four fundamental areas of a child’s life: a place to call home; a healthy start in life; a quality education; and sustainable family income. Currently-funded programmes will benefit an estimated 100 million children by 2015. Learn more at


The UN Refugee Agency was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. UNHCR safeguards the rights and well-being of refugees. In more than six decades, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives. Today, UNHCR helps about 33.9 million persons: 14.7 million internally displaced people, 10.5 million refugees, 3.1 million returnees, 3.5 million stateless people, more than 837,000 asylum seekers and more than 1.3 other persons of concern. UNHCR is on the front lines of the world’s humanitarian crises, including Syria, Mali, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and countless other emergencies.

Jonathan Spampinato
Head of Communications & Strategic Planning
Tel: +31 611 756 336

Jonathan Spampinato
Head of Communications & Strategic Planning
Tel: +31 611 756 336

Media contact

In collaboration with
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency