Assembling the Better Shelter structures in the Via Ramazzini migrant hub in Rome. Credit: Croce Rossa italiana
Assembling the Better Shelter structures in the Via Ramazzini migrant hub in Rome. Credit: Croce Rossa italiana

The Italian Red Cross is in the process of replacing traditional tents in its refugee centres with "Better Shelters." They are hoping that the flat-pack structures can improve the living conditions of migrants and homeless people sleeping there.

The Better Shelter was developed in 2010 by the United Nations' Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IKEA Foundation, a not-for-organization affiliated with the Swedish furniture giant, with the goal of providing more dignified and environmentally sustainable accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers. 

The Italian Red Cross plans to install around 100 Better Shelters in Rome, Settimo Torinese, Lecce, and Bresso; some of which have already been set up. 

"The Better Shelter is a model that combines design and social utility," spokesperson Laura Bastianetto told ANSA. The temporary homes are made out of a galvanised steel frame and plastic panels. They are more durable and accommodating than tents typically used at refugee camps: the average life span of a Better Shelter is three years, while tents used by the UNHCR usually last only six months. 
They take just four hours to assemble, can accommodate between 5 and 6 people, have solar panels for heating and electicity, and can withstand harsh weather and even fire. 

Design for dignity

These structures have the added value of "steering reception towards the needs of human beings and towards what technology can offer to improve people's living conditions," Francesca Basile, the Italian Red Cross Coordinator for Migration, told ANSA. The Better Shelter is "the solution closest to people in terms of restoring dignity and protecting family units, which in this way can have their own space, their own door, their own world."

"There are some contexts, such as the migrant hubs, where it is more dignified to live in a hut of this nature pending transfer to a formal reception centre," Bastianetto said. She added that in future the Better Shelter structures could "be used in emergency situations instead of tents", for example in the event of earthquakes, or to shelter the homeless during the winter cold. 


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