Professor speaks to TIME on the Syrian refugee crisis

Friday, 17 January 2014

David Sanderson

Professor David Sanderson, Director of the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP) and visiting professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, has joined the urban disaster debate on Ikea housing for Syrian refugees.

Speaking to TIME Magazine David said that although the new Ikea housing can make refugees more comfortable: "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."

The Lebanese government gave the green light to temporary Ikea housing to the estimated 2 million Syrian refugees who fled to neighbouring countries since the conflict started in 2011. It has taken more than six months for the Lebanese government to allow even a trial run of the flat-pack Ikea Refugee Housing Unit, which is designed in partnership with the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR.

Each house provides a temporary home featuring a spacious interior, solar lights and insulated wall panels. Until now, the Lebanese government has refused to set up any refugee camps because, 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 and the Lebanese authorities are keen to avoid a repeat.

The debate comes in the run-up to the International Design for Urban Disaster conference taking place at Harvard University in May this year, for which David is chairman.

The conference is sponsored by Oxford Brookes University School of Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design (Department of Urban Planning and Design), Harvard University South Asia Institute, Habitat for Humanity, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.