Genius or madness? IKEA unveils flat-pack refugee shelter on World Refugee Day

IKEA, the conglomerate that sells everything from office furniture to lounge suites and beds to the kitchen sink, has a new offering: the flat-pack refugee shelter.

Unveiled in time for World Refugee Day, the prototype is a cheap, construct-it-yourself hut complete with electricity-generating roofs.

The charitable IKEA Foundation, supported in the idea by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), has designed the shelters — at 17.5 square meters — to be twice as large as an "old-school refugee tent," Fast Company wrote.

They would fit five people comfortably and last up to 10 times longer.

Of 43 million people globally who live as refugees or are internally displaced, 10 percent of them live in tents, the UNHCR estimates.

IKEA says the shelters should take about four hours to assemble, although anyone who's ever assembled anything from Ikea before might consider that timeframe optimistic.

While IKEA might specialize in inoffensive home furnishings, prefabricated and packed into flat boxes for easy transport, the company has tried some novel concepts before — including budget hotels and miniature replicas of its Scandinavian designs for use in dollhouses.

While IKEA has poured about $4.5 million into the project, it's been pointed out that the company — owned by the INGKA foundation, itself registered as a charitable organization under Dutch law — has faced calls to increase its charitable activities.

UNHCR estimates that 3.5 million refugees, or 10 percent of the world’s refugee population, live in tents which, said Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, "offer little comfort, dignity, or security."

He continued:

"Further, the existing tents are cold in the winter and hot in the summer. They have no electricity or lighting, limiting refugee families’ ability to lead a normal life."

The IKEA shelter’s walls and roof are composed of a more longlasting laminated polymer material that offers UV protection and insulation.

Paul Spiegel, an official with the UN Refugee Agency, told the Wall Street Journal:

"This is a better solution than tents. It has potential to be better in the elements and the weather."

Fast Company, in its semi-serious coverage of what IKEA is calling simply "Refugee Shelter," includes quite valid speculation over whether the item's set name will be Tillflykt ("refuge" in Swedish) — and whether it will come with the all-important Allen key included.