Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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

No, Lebanon. Please, no!

Link for full piece here.


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.”

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