After a Long Delay, Lebanon Finally Says Yes to Ikea Housing for Syrian Refugees

The housewares giant has teamed up with the U.N. to build better shelters for refugees, but authorities in Beirut fear hundreds of thousands of Syrians now living as refugees in Lebanon may get too comfortable

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Hussein Malla / AP

Roberta Russo, a communication officer for the UNHCR, shows a new a pre-fabricated house is to serve as an alternative to tents for refugees that designed by the Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA for UNHCR, in Beirut, Lebanon, July 24, 2013.

As every new homeowner knows, Ikea’s flat-pack furniture fills the niche for cheap, trendy and ultimately disposable housewares. So it only made sense that Ikea’s philanthropic wing would team up with the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, to develop a similarly of-the-moment solution to the vexing problem of temporary refugee housing, which hasn’t substantially evolved beyond the tent since the Israelites fled Egypt. The only problem is that the flat-pack Ikea Refugee Housing Unit, with its roomy interior, solar lights and insulated wall panels — all designed to last three years compared to a tent’s six months — isn’t temporary enough for some. Nowhere is that more evident than in Lebanon, where government authorities had, until last week, prohibited their use for the mass influx of Syrians fleeing the war, worried that the upgraded housing may just incite refugees to stay.

It has taken more than six months of intense lobbying to convince the Lebanese government to allow even a trial run of the Ikea units. Now that they are permitted, it’s likely to take just as long to get a sufficient number of the shelters into the country, leaving entire families exposed to the elements as Lebanon’s vicious winter storms drive freezing rain, snow and wind through the informal refugee settlements that have sprung up across the country. UNHCR has delivered tens of thousands of emergency kits containing plastic tarps, blankets and timber to the estimated 125,000 refugees that have not been able to find adequate shelter. Still, it means that many can expect to spend the winter with little more to protect them from the elements than a thin plastic sheet. The government turnaround is a positive development, says Jean-Marie Garelli, UNHCR’s program director for the Syrian refugees. “However it will take some time to put these shelters in place. You won’t see a miracle in a week.”

More than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries since the conflict started in 2011. At least half have settled in Lebanon, where Syrian refugees now make up nearly 25% of the population, taxing an already weakened state infrastructure that can barely support the educational, health and sanitation needs of local Lebanese. It is for this reason that government authorities, unlike those in Jordan and Turkey, have refused to establish refugee camps. When Palestinians fled Israel in 1948, Lebanon welcomed them for what was supposed to be a temporary stay. More than 60 years later, the Palestinian population has reached half a million. Lebanese authorities don’t want to risk a repeat. “In Lebanon the government has been reluctant to set up any structure that has any resemblance of permanence,” says Roberta Russo, UNHCR’s Beirut-based spokesperson. “After what they went through with the Palestinians, they want to make sure the presence of Syrians is temporary.” And that means that even an Ikea house that that can be put together — or taken apart — in less than four hours raised hackles.

(MORE: Tragedy by Numbers: The Lasting Impact of War on Syria’s Children)

At the beginning of the Syria conflict, Lebanon encouraged refugees to integrate into local communities by renting houses or sheltering in unfinished construction sites instead of setting up formal camps. It worked up to a point, but now the staggering numbers are taking a toll. The refugees are now scattered across the country, making it much more difficult to deliver adequate assistance. Even though the government is opening up to the idea of better shelters, it is opposed to any kind of formal camp. Still, says Russo, Lebanon has been far more generous in terms of hosting Syrians than any other country, so while the government’s stance on the temporary houses is frustrating, it is also understandable.

UNHCR and the Ikea Foundation have spent three years and more than $4.6 million to develop an alternative to the traditional tent. The final structure is made of a light, flexible steel frame lined with polymer-foam panels designed to let in light during the day while providing privacy at night. A shade net embedded with a lightweight solar panel provides warmth in the winter, shade in the summer, and electricity when needed. It weighs less than 220 lb. and, when unassembled, is easily transportable. “We were really enthusiastic when we saw it,” says Russo. “It provided solutions to so many issues — children can study homework at night, there is privacy and it’s easy to set up.” Most important, she says, is that it’s portable. “It’s a structure that can be taken with the refugees when they go home. It’s quite likely that when these refugees return to Syria, they won’t have a house to go back to, so this structure actually better facilitates their return.”

The houses are currently in testing, and still cost around $7,500 to produce. Once they have completed field trials in Iraq and Ethiopia — 12 were to be tested in Lebanon starting this summer, prior to the government’s refusal — they will be mass-produced, which is expected to bring the price down to around $1,000 or less. That’s still more expensive than a tent or a sheet of plastic, but it won’t have to be replaced nearly so often. UNHCR estimates that some 3.5 million refugees around the world live in tents, and on average they stay in camps for about 12 years. The Ikea house isn’t likely to change those metrics, but it can at least make the lives of refugees more comfortable.

And that is part of the problem, says David Sanderson, a visiting professor of urban planning at Harvard University who specializes in disaster management. “The idea that you can solve the refugee problem with a new house design offers false comfort. The risk now is that we will see photographs of 50 Ikea shelters set up for the Syrians, and we think, ‘O.K., they are all fine, we can think about something else.’ The houses are better than tents, of course, but the families are far from fine.” It’s a grim trade-off. Give refugees better conditions, and there will be less international pressure to get them back home. And that is exactly what the Lebanese government was worried about. Once the flat-pack houses are in place, that theory too will be put to the test.

MORE: A Spasm of Violence: How Lebanon Is Threatened by Syria’s Rebellion

53 comments
FrankyJ
FrankyJ

Why does peaceful  Lebanon have to take the brunt of every upheaval in the Middle East.  Look what happened when they took in the refuges from Palestine.  The Hamas now controls too much of the country and Lebanon becomes Israels' battlefield.  Will it be any different with the Syrian Muslims? No.

tushambi
tushambi

There will be more and more people losing their homes in Muslim countries. As the Muslims increase in number the countries they move to will become unstable and more people will lose their homes. The answer isn't tents or shacks. The answer is a new updated Koran that outlaws the act of murder by Muslims,  not only of Muslims, but people of all faiths. Children should not be taught to hate and committ terrorists acts and be  told they will be rewarded in heaven.  For the entire history of the Muslim religion, 1500 years, this problem has continued. The religious and political leaders of the Muslim people need to stop  the murder and distruction of innocent people in the name of Allah. 

nahda
nahda

The better option would be for foreign parties to stop their war against Syria and contribute to rebuilding inside Syria to repatriate those who have been forced to leave.  Little hope of that with Saudi Arabia's recent statement it continues the fight. Where is the international community?

Forsaken
Forsaken

I think the Ikea idea is great. Congrats. I think the article is poorly written as it fails to capture the reason for the rejection in the first place. The pearl of the middle east, the Paris of the middle east, the Switzerland of the east, Lebanon, was sucked into conflict by opening its borders once... a conflict that became much worse than that of Syria. Should there be any surprise that they fear for the worse this time round? Would you stick your hand in fire twice? ever heard of a knee jerk reaction?


So yes, as a human being I am disappointed by what my country has done in delaying this housing. Yet, will these house the fuel of our next civil war? Asking ourselves the right question, framing it correctly can go a long way towards writing a fair article.


And FYI: I am coordinating a response of GIK for the refugees which I personally initiated so dont respond with racist comments. We are all connected by the invisible one-word umbilical chord: HUMANITY. And i know few nations that have given more of herself than my land; the ex home of milk and honey. 


Lastly, i would love to see an ARAB country coming forward to support our 'brethern'. Almost all NGOs there are Christian and or western. Churches have raised more than Arab nations. How about you write an article on that! Title it ' the western satan comes to Syria's aid whilst her brothers sit passively in silent prayer'. That is a fact and a story that needs the right questions asked about it, framed and then written. I am embarrassed as an Arab. and the saddest part is that these camps will house the dispossessed, the broken, the shamed and the furious... in short, the next wave of human bombers... ironically to be sent against the only ones who came to serve and love them as their 'own' wouldn't even DARE to.

quetzalcoatlforyou
quetzalcoatlforyou

Sweden should take all the Syrian refugees. They have lots of land and their population is low.
Syrians work very hard, unlike most Europeans who want to stay home and earn unemployment money.

makeup
makeup

Record sum needed to handle burden on Lebanon from Syria's civil war

(CNN) -- The government of Lebanon cried out to the world for help Monday over the strain the civil war in neighboring Syria is putting on its country. It needs a record amount of cash.

The exodus of people fleeing lives and homes ripped apart by bombs and bullets for the safety of Lebanon does not want to abate. Aid workers from 60 agencies need more money than ever to tackle the mounting humanitarian crisis.

And the coffers are nearly empty. Next year's budget is only 5% funded so far, the United Nations says.

The government in Beirut made an official plea for donations to help cover the $1.89 billion the U.N. thinks is needed. It reflects the growing multitude of refugees throughout the region and burgeoning budgets needed to fund their care.

The U.N. said Monday that $6.5 billion, a record amount, will be needed next year to cover a projected 4 million Syrian civil war refugees and the communities they have flooded into.

Refugees threatened by winter weatherSyrian refugees fight to survive Women Dress

That is nearly double the 2,304,128 externally displaced people currently registered.

One-fifth of the people living in Lebanon's borders are now refugees from Syria's war.

That's the official figure; the real one could be much higher, as the U.N. count has typically not been able to keep up with the influx of people who have lost everything.

Their impoverishment is straining resources for locals as well.

Lebanese in trouble

It is pushing many locals toward desperation in the nation, which is politically polarized between those who oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those who support him. Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah is fighting alongside his soldiers against rebels trying to topple him best makeup brush.

The U.N. counts 842,500 registered Syrian war refugees in Lebanon, but hordes more are unregistered. The U.N. expects the official number to climb to 1.5 million next year. The same number of Lebanese will be in need of help, it says.

Lebanon hosts 36% of the refugees piling into countries in the region, and it's a small country, with an official population of 4.4 million people, according to the World Bank.

Nearly 1,600 refugee camps dot Israel's northern neighbor, which is smaller than the state of Connecticut.

A third of the registered displaced people live in substandard shelters, the U.N. says.

Nearly 300,000 of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are school-age children, and the U.N. expects the number to more than double in 2014.

The government and aid agencies are asking for money to provide food, education, sanitation, security, shelter and other needs.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/16/world/meast/syria-civil-war-lebanon/

asatsc
asatsc

What a piece of garbage pretending to be a shelter. 

Websters Dictionary:

shel-ter (noun)

       shel-ter or (shelters)

1.structure that protects or covers

2.refuge

3.refuge for animals

4.protection or cover

5.dwelling or housing

shel-ter (verb)

      shel-ter or (shel-tered)

1.provide somebody or something with protection

2.find protection

3.find dry place

CynthiaAvishegnath
CynthiaAvishegnath

Too much fun, what's that mean?

It's like too much money, there's no such thing
It's like a girl too pretty with too much class
Being too lucky, a car too fast
No matter what they say, I've done
But I ain't never had too much fun

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

"the upgraded housing may just incite refugees to stay."

I'm hoping that you meant ENTICE.

janis_powers
janis_powers

Tents are not the answer, although they help in the short term.  In order to help the Syrian refugees, and the nation of Lebanon, the country needs a strengthened infrastructure guided by an apolitical group that can work with the existing leaders.  Lebanon needs the global Lebanese community, a group which remits $8 BILLION annually to Lebanon, to unify and help.  This blog was originally posted to the Huff Post: "Calling All Lebanese." http://janispowers.com/2013/11/calling-all-lebanese/

KobeWild
KobeWild

I want one of these for my next trip to burning man....   

dutchs
dutchs

I was with the Army in Kurdistan after the Gulf War, and relief organizations can sometimes make the Tea Party look like bleeding heart liberals. They were adamant about ensuring survival but not providing comfort, ironic in a mission named "Provide Comfort." And the reasoning is exactly what's stated in the article. Even guaranteeing survival can be such an improvement over what people have at home that they don't want to go back.

paulmartin200
paulmartin200

The Lebanese government is right on this one. Do not put up anything that suggests any kind of permanence.  It's just like the display in the Ikea store : "It's our 567 sq ft home!" 

ApollosLair
ApollosLair

If you want them to leave and look for a better life, tell them they have to pay for Obamacare...that will fix it...

Rustiga
Rustiga

Why don't you stick to pastry happenings, Ms. Baker? The lesson learned from prior allowances of refugees in Lebanon may remind many of the Abbas founded PLO & the antics that brought Israeli warplanes into the country. 


Seeing as how your post is rather recent in world of the Middle East, of course you'd run such a slime story on the Lebanese government. I'm sure there will be no post in sight when a rebel led assault on Israeli or Lebanese populations (be it civilian or otherwise) originates from a rebel sect masking as simple refugees. Thanks, Time, for making the Lebanese (who's country is smaller than all but one American state), such horrible folk. 


"Great article" mouthed every privileged first worlder...

johannesjeep
johannesjeep

One other aspect of North African / Middle East refugees (or any immigrants for that matter) is that many times its not the host country who is against their arrival , but previous immigrants from their country who resist the new arrivals and do not want them to have it easier than them. It's kind of like we had it hard, so should you.

JaradKendrick
JaradKendrick

I'm not exactly sure why these refugees should be treated any different than anyone else. If you are leaving your country and moving somewhere else, find a home, rent it, get a job etc.. why do these people think they should be provided food and shelter from anywhere else and the notion that the wealthy nations should be supporting the less fortunate is equally short sighted. Providing aid encourages the behavior, and doesn't solve the problem.

grove
grove

"More than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries since the conflict started in 2011. At least half have settled in Lebanon, where Syrian refugees now make up nearly 25% of the population, taxing an already weakened state infrastructure that can barely support the educational, health and sanitation needs of local Lebanese. It is for this reason that government authorities, unlike those in Jordan and Turkey, have refused to establish refugee camps. When Palestinians fled Israel in 1948, Lebanon welcomed them for what was supposed to be a temporary stay. More than 60 years later, the Palestinian population has reached half a million. Lebanese authorities don’t want to risk a repeat."


Jordan is also a very poor country that has taken in refugees from Palestine, Iraq, and now Syria, and many of the Palestinians and Iraqi's have stayed. In fact, ethnic Jordanians are outnumbered by Palestinians and Iraqis in their country.

The countries in the Middle East like Jordan and Lebanon that are taking in so many refugees despite their own economic situation need the support of wealthy countries. If we fail to support them, these moderate Islamic countries are at risk of being taken over by more extreme Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

johannesjeep
johannesjeep

Ikea stuff always looks good but it does not stand the test of time. It used to, I had one bed that lasted 25 years but not anymore. They will replace stuff if you can get back there and line up. I too have properties and have not had much luck with Ikea kitchen survival - especially if you have children. Hopefully the refugees will have something more permanent within a couple of years. Please no photo op's.

hp.proli
hp.proli

Next, comes the fighting over who gets them and who doesn't.

nellydesign
nellydesign

Sure, the tents are nice, but they come with 10 pages of instructions, like 5 different sizes of allen wrench, and so many screws.  Lets see... I need to put this part into... where's that cam thingee? Awww, screw it, I give up....

MichaelCollins
MichaelCollins

Wow...something from Ikea lasts more than six months?

micrococo
micrococo

@FrankyJso you are sure that hamas is the one that has alot of control not the "Hizb" of Iran, you must be joking ,

micrococo
micrococo

@tushambilook slike you are mixing between two things, the people (Muslims) and he religion(Islam), having many people with long hair doesnt mean that there is no barber shop. and Inorder to be unbiased you need also to mention the good examples of muslims how ware ready and willing to dai to protect the inocent people you are talking about for the sake of Allah, just as you talked about the bad people. ****** Muslims says that the Quran is from Allah "are you really sure about the update thing" you need to honestly ready about islam.

loadcode
loadcode

@quetzalcoatlforyou Sweden already takes more refugees than any other western country. You need can't assimilate large groups of people with a small population. If anything America would be the best choice. America takes in a tiny amount of refugess despite being a huge country with a large population. Norway alone takes more refugees than America.


Saying Europeans want to stay home and earn unemployment money is rather ignorant. Europe is not a country. It consists of lots of countries with huge variation in economy and culture.  And working hard is of no value to a highly developed country such as sweden if you don't have qualifications. There are few jobs in any European country for unskilled labour.  Again America might be better suited. There are more unskilled jobs in America: Burger flippers and shopping bag packers e.g.


Or perhaps best of all, send them to Japan. Japan has huge problems with a rapidly aging and shrinking population.

ars5151
ars5151

@JocelynRose for now, until the world forgets about them and then it will be Leabanon having to figure out what to do with thousands of starving refugees. 

BillionthObserver
BillionthObserver

You're exactly the type that gives liberals a bad name. Let's all be artistic, creative types who claim to support the plight of people hurting around the world ... so you can use their tents as an improvement at Burning Man. Wow ...

netizenk
netizenk

@ApollosLair  Any Romneycare gripes you may have should be dwarfed by the robbery performed by ChaneyCo in order to take trillions of dollars of our tax money, to supposedly finance the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while in reality most of it was just transferred to private accounts of the Military-Industrial complex overlords. What a marvelous feat of pilfering that was and hardly anyone even noticed...


Why is no one talking about that attrocity? Why is no one outraged by that outright robbery? 


Money spent on ACA is at least going to your healthcare and will greatly reduce ER freeloading and these wars were nothing short of outright plundering... you should be trully ashamed of your asinine comment...

cassieconner
cassieconner

Oh yeah, these people are war refugees who have had their homes destroyed and their family members killed in front of them, but we Americans have it so much worse with this blight of *healthcare*.  Poor us. 

johannesjeep
johannesjeep

@Rustiga 1st world here, think the Lebanese are great. Three things to say  (1) I totally know that there are more Syrian children at this point in Lebanese schools than Lebanese. (2) I learned to drive in Toronto and was taught by my Lebanese friend who was a refugee. (3) A number of my friends were peace keepers in Lebanon in the 70's.

miakotamatsue
miakotamatsue

@JaradKendrick I try hard to keep from calling people names, but you are just a short-sighted moron.

Samten
Samten

@JaradKendrick Imagine that tomorrow, the town where you live is bombed. People are trying to kill you. You barely have time to pack a bag before you flee to Canada. You arrive in Quebec, where not even everyone speaks English. You have no idea how employment works in Canada, because you're not a citizen and you had no time to plan this escape -- your life was in danger. You don't know how the real estate market works. And imagine you only have a little money in savings because you were just barely making ends meet at home. This would be extraordinarily challenging to navigate, and you desperately need someone to help you out, temporarily, while you figure out how life works in this new place, full of strangers speaking an unfamiliar language and living under unfamiliar laws. Arriving as a refugee is not the same as deciding to move to another country, and spending time researching and planning the change.

AlWolfStann
AlWolfStann

@JaradKendrick because most of them are running and leaving everything behind with barely the clothes on their back? much less  first and last months rent? without a job? no checkable references? would you rent them an apartment or give them a job? No citizenship papers?


grove
grove

@JaradKendrickAlso, I'm a little confused by your statements. You do understand that they have only left their home country because they will most likely die if they stay, right? I'm not really sure what you mean by "encourages the behavior". These aren't people shirking work because they are lazy, these are people quite literally fleeing for their lives.

grove
grove

@JaradKendrickJaradKendrick, the lucky refugees do move in with the general population and do their best to get jobs. The problem is that these are poor countries with very high unemployment already. The local populations are none too happy about refugees taking their jobs and driving up the price of housing and consumer goods (with increased demand come increased prices). The people who are in the refugee camps are there because they have no other option. Their host countries know that it will be easier to repatriate them to their home country if they are kept in camps rather than allowed to mix in with the general population.

grove
grove

One correction - I meant to say "If we fail to support them, these moderate countries are at risk of being taken over by more extreme Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood," as Lebanon is not, in fact, an Islamic state.

johannesjeep
johannesjeep

@grove Not sure why Canada/USA cannot take in more. I have seen many from the middle east arrive and thrive very well with very low cost for the host country.

GracieLake
GracieLake

@MichaelCollins In the properties that I rent out - the ones with Ikea kitchens are treated better than the ones without. Something about giving people nicer looking stuff...I had one tenant who trashed the property, but the Ikea cabinets looked fabulous.

BillionthObserver
BillionthObserver

@JonKing @cleverlyc I --am-- a liberal (or as you call a "lib") and a Burning Man fan. Ironic. I don't appreciate --anyone-- even on my "lib" side (as you call me) who makes light of the suffering of others. My point is that ultra-conservatives use that kind of comment as ammunition to distort who liberals are, as you apparently have mine.

cleverlyc
cleverlyc

@BillionthObserverHow does that give anyone a bad name?! Never mind that Ikea would use the proceeds from such a sale to further the assistance given.

But, anything to slam a 'lib' huh?

JonKing
JonKing

@BillionthObserverAnd your the type that gives right wingers a bad name.  Odds are he is not really a liberal.   Or perhaps he was making a joke to lighten the moment while he volunteers time helping people.  I remember during the Iraq war's beginnings which the liberals opposed and were right about....they organized to send care packages to the troops who did not even have toilet paper while right wingers just blathered on and on and did nothing to actually help.

dcmd
dcmd

@Samten @JaradKendrick As well as you are stressed because half your family is missing and you don't know if they are alive or dead

dcmd
dcmd

@Samten @JaradKendrick not to mention, in a lot of countries, refugees are not legally allowed to work and therefore have no choice but to live on charity

RockChalkJoe
RockChalkJoe

@grove@JaradKendrick Kinda sounds like the US but with Mexico... They move in (illegally by the way, meaning their first act as a "citizen" is committing a crime which you morons don't realize) take the jobs and actual citizens go unemployed because a company wants to save some money by hiring someone under the table which takes away (double really) from taxes... But hey, illegals spending money at Wal-mart is what makes America so why should we expect people to go the legal route and actually show an effort towards becoming a citizen. Let's keep rewarding the criminals (no, literally ALL illegal immigrants are criminals). Hell, as long as someone pleads guilty they can spend 10 years in jail for a murder instead of life like they should. America is all about cutting deals and also "just dealing with" issues instead of ACTUALLY addressing them. As far as this story though, who cares, we have way more important issues here before worrying about others. Sure it sounds "cold" but do you really think someone in Syria deserves help over actual citizens of the US that are jobless because of illegal mexicans?