• Machine-Readable Refugees

    Hassan (not his real name; other details have also been changed) paused mid-story to take out his wallet and show me his ID card. Its edges were frayed. The grainy, black-and-white photo was of a gawky teenager. He ran his thumb over the words at the top: ‘Jamhuri ya Kenya/Republic of Kenya’. ‘Somehow,’ he said, ‘no one has found out that I am registered as a Kenyan.’

    He was born in the Kenyan town of Mandera, on the country’s borders with Somalia and Ethiopia, and grew up with relatives who had escaped the Somali civil war in the early 1990s. When his aunt, who fled Mogadishu, applied for refugee resettlement through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she listed Hassan as one of her sons – a description which, if understood outside the confines of biological kinship, accurately reflected their relationship.

    They were among the lucky few to pass through the competitive and labyrinthine resettlement process for Somalis and, in 2005, Hassan – by then a young adult – was relocated to Minnesota. It would be several years before US Citizenship and Immigration Services introduced DNA tests to assess the veracity of East African refugee petitions. The adoption of genetic testing by Denmark, France and the US, among others, has narrowed the ways in which family relationships can be defined, while giving the resettlement process the air of an impartial audit culture.

    In recent years, biometrics (the application of statistical methods to biological data, such as fingerprints or DNA) have been hailed as a solution to the elusive problem of identity fraud. Many governments and international agencies, including the UNHCR, see biometric identifiers and centralised databases as ways to determine the authenticity of people’s claims to refugee and citizenship status, to ensure that no one is passing as someone or something they’re not. But biometrics can be a blunt instrument, while the term ‘fraud’ is too absolute to describe a situation like Hassan’s.

    Biometrics infiltrated the humanitarian sector after 9/11. The US and EU were already building centralised fingerprint registries for the purposes of border control. But with the start of the War on Terror, biometric fever peaked, most evidently at the borders between nations, where the images of the terrorist and the migrant were blurred. A few weeks after the attacks, the UNHCR was advocating the collection and sharing of biometric data from refugees and asylum seekers. A year later, it was experimenting with iris scans along the Afghanistan/Pakistan frontier. On the insistence of the US, its top donor, the agency developed a standardised biometric enrolment system, now in use in more than fifty countries worldwide. By 2006, UNHCR agents were taking fingerprints in Kenya’s refugee camps, beginning with both index fingers and later expanding to all ten digits and both eyes.

    Reeling from 9/11, the US and its allies saw biometrics as a way to root out the new faceless enemy. At the same time, for humanitarian workers on the ground, it was an apparently simple answer to an intractable problem: how to identify a ‘genuine’ refugee. Those claiming refugee status could be crossed-checked against a host country’s citizenship records. Officials could detect refugees who tried to register under more than one name in order to get additional aid. Biometric technologies were laden with promises: improved accountability, increased efficiency, greater objectivity, an end to the heavy-handed tactics of herding people around and keeping them under surveillance.

    When refugees relinquish their fingerprints in return for aid, they don’t know how traces of themselves can travel through an invisible digital architecture. A centralised biometric infrastructure enables opaque, automated data-sharing with third parties. Human rights advocates worry about sensitive identifying information falling into thehands of governments or security agencies. According to a recent privacy-impact report, the UNHCR shares biometric data with the Department of Homeland Security when referring refugees for resettlement in the US. ‘The very nature of digitalised refugee data,’ as the political scientist Katja Jacobsen says, ‘means that it might also become accessible to other actors beyond the UNHCR’s own biometric identity management system.’

    Navigating a complex landscape of interstate sovereignty, caught between host and donor countries, refugee aid organisations often hold contradictory, inconsistent views on data protection. UNHCR officials have long been hesitant about sharing information with the Kenyan state, for instance. Their reservations are grounded in concerns that ‘confidential asylum-seeker data could be used for non-protection-related purposes’. Kenya has a poor record of refugee protection. Its security forces have a history of harassing Somalis, whether refugees or Kenyan citizens, who are widely mistrusted as ‘foreigners’.

    Such well-founded concerns did not deter the UNHCR from sharing data with, funding and training Kenya’s Department of Refugee Affairs (now the Refugee Affairs Secretariat), which since 2011 has slowly and unevenly taken over refugee registration in the country. The UNHCR hasconducted joint verification exercises with the Kenyan government to weed out cases of double registration. According to the anthropologist Claire Walkey, these efforts were ‘part of the externalisation of European asylum policy ... and general burden shifting to the Global South’, where more than 80 per cent of the world’s refugees live. Biometrics collected for protection purposes have been used by the Kenyan government to keep people out. Tens of thousands of ethnic Somali Kenyan citizens who have tried to get a Kenyan national ID have been turned away in recent years because their fingerprints are in the state’s refugee database.

    Over the last decade, biometrics have become part of the global development agenda, allegedly a panacea for a range of problems. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to provide everyone with a legal identity by 2030. Governments, multinational tech companies and international bodies from the World Bank to the World Food Programme have been promoting the use of digital identity systems. Across the Global South, biometric identifiers are increasingly linked to voting, aid distribution, refugee management and financial services. Countries with some of the least robust privacy laws and most vulnerable populations are now laboratories for experimental tech.

    Biometric identifiers promise to tie legal status directly to the body. They offer seductively easy solutions to the problems of administering large populations. But it is worth asking what (and who) gets lost when countries and international bodies turn to data-driven, automated solutions. Administrative failures, data gaps and clunky analogue systems had posed huge challenges for people at the mercy of dispassionate bureaucracies, but also provided others with room for manoeuvre.

    Biometrics may close the gap between an ID and its holder, but it opens a gulf between streamlined bureaucracies and people’s messy lives, their constrained choices, their survival strategies, their hopes for a better future, none of which can be captured on a digital scanner or encoded into a database.

    #biométrie #identité #réfugiés #citoyenneté #asile #migrations #ADN #tests_ADN #tests_génétiques #génétique #nationalité #famille #base_de_donnée #database #HCR #UNHCR #fraude #frontières #contrôles_frontaliers #iris #technologie #contrôle #réinstallation #protection_des_données #empreintes_digitales #identité_digitale

    ping @etraces @karine4
    via @isskein

  • UNHCR shocked at death of Afghan boy on #Lesvos; urges transfer of unaccompanied children to safe shelters

    UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply saddened by news that a 15-year-old Afghan boy was killed and two other teenage boys injured after a fight broke out last night at the Moria reception centre on the Greek island of Lesvos. Despite the prompt actions by authorities and medical personnel, the boy was pronounced dead at Vostaneio Hospital in Mytilene, the main port town on Lesvos. The two other boys were admitted at the hospital where one required life-saving surgery. A fourth teenager, also from Afghanistan, was arrested by police in connection with the violence.

    The safe area at the Moria Reception and Identification Centre, RIC, hosts nearly 70 unaccompanied children, but more than 500 other boys and girls are staying in various parts of the overcrowded facility without a guardian and exposed to exploitation and abuse. Some of them are accommodated with unknown adults.

    “I was shocked to hear about the boy’s death”, said UNHCR Representative in Greece, Philippe Leclerc. “Moria is not the place for children who are alone and have faced profound trauma from events at home and the hardship of their flight. They need special care in dedicated shelters. The Greek government must take urgent measures to ensure that these children are transferred to a safe place and to end the overcrowding we see on Lesvos and other islands,” he said, adding that UNHCR stands ready to support by all means necessary.

    Frustration and tensions can easily boil over in Moria RIC which now hosts over 8,500 refugees and migrants – four times its capacity. Access to services such as health and psychological support are limited while security is woefully insufficient for the number of people. Unaccompanied children especially can face unsafe conditions for months while waiting for an authorized transfer to appropriate shelter. Their prolonged stay in such difficult conditions further affects their psychology and well-being.

    Nearly 2,000 refugees and migrants arrived by sea to Greece between 12 and 18 August, bringing the number of entries this year to 21,947. Some 22,700 people, including nearly 1,000 unaccompanied and separated children, are now staying on the Greek Aegean islands, the highest number in three years.


    #MNA #mineurs #enfants #enfance #Moria #décès #mort #asile #migrations #réfugiés #Grèce #camps_de_réfugiés #Lesbos #bagarre #dispute #surpopulation

    • Cet article du HCR, m’a fait pensé à la #forme_camps telle qu’elle est illustrée dans l’article... j’ai partagé cette réflexion avec mes collègues du comité scientifique du Centre du patrimoine arménien de Valence.

      Je la reproduis ici :

      Je vous avais parlé du film documentaire « #Refugistan » (https://seenthis.net/messages/502311), que beaucoup d’entre vous ont vu.

      Je vous disais, lors de la dernière réunion, qu’une des choses qui m’avait le plus frappé dans ce film, c’est ce rapprochement géographique du « camp de réfugié tel que l’on se l’imagine avec des #tentes blanches avec estampillons HCR »... cet #idéal-type de #camp on le voit dans le film avant tout en Afrique centrale, puis dans les pays d’Afrique du Nord et puis, à la fin... en Macédoine. Chez nous, donc.

      J’ai repensé à cela, ce matin, en voyant cette triste nouvelle annoncée par le HCR du décès d’un jeune dans le camps de Moria à Lesbos suite à une bagarre entre jeunes qui a lieu dans le camp.

      Regardez l’image qui accompagne l’article :

      Des tentes blanches avec l’estampillons « UNHCR »... en Grèce, encore plus proche, en Grèce, pays de l’Union européenne...

      Des pensées... que je voulais partager avec vous.

      #altérité #cpa_camps #altérisation

      ping @reka @isskein @karine4

    • Greek refugee camp unable to house new arrivals

      Authorities on the Greek island of Lesvos say they can’t house more newly arrived migrants at a perpetually overcrowded refugee camp that now is 400 percent overcapacity.

      Two officials told AP the Moria camp has a population of 12,000 and no way to accommodate additional occupants.

      The officials say newcomers are sleeping in the open or in tents outside the camp, which was built to hold 3,000 refugees.

      Some were taken to a small transit camp run by the United Nations’ refugee agency on the north coast of Lesvos.

      The island authorities said at least 410 migrants coming in boats from Turkey reached Lesvos on Friday.

      The officials asked not to be identified pending official announcements about the camp.


  • arte.tv | Documentaire « Bienvenue au Réfugistan »

    « Pourquoi et de quelle manière les camps de réfugiés, conçus à l’origine pour être provisoires, perdurent-ils pour certains depuis des décennies ? Le documentaire décrypte habilement les rouages de ces mondes parallèles d’où il semble impossible de sortir. »

    • Le fondateur du groupe suédois Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad toujours aussi jeune : Ses cabanes pour migrants inflammables, comme dans les camps

      Les autorités zurichoises et argoviennes (#Suisse) ont renoncé vendredi à utiliser ces installations d’urgence pour les requérants d’asile.
      La #Fondation_Ikea a défendu samedi la sécurité de ses cabanes pour #migrants après la décision de la ville de Zurich d’y renoncer en affirmant qu’elles sont inflammables.

      Zurich a dévoilé vendredi des tests montrant que ces cabanes conçues par le géant suédois de l’ameublement prêt-à-monter étaient « facilement inflammables ».
      Les autorités ont donc décidé d’annuler l’accueil de migrants dans 62 de ces petites maisons à partir de janvier. Le canton d’Argovie, qui envisageait lui aussi d’acquérir ces maisonnettes pour accueillir 300 demandeurs d’asile, a annoncé qu’il recherchait d’autres solutions.

      Niveau de sécurité supérieur

      « Nous ne pouvons faire aucun commentaire avant d’avoir reçu la traduction du rapport sur les résultats et la méthode utilisée pour conduire ces tests d’incendie », a indiqué la responsable de la communication du projet « Better Shelter », fruit d’une collaboration entre la Fondation Ikea et le Haut Commissariat des Nations unies pour les réfugiés (#HCR).

      Les cabanes Ikea, dont la réaction au feu a été testée selon les normes européennes, présentent un niveau de sécurité supérieur à ce qui se fait ailleurs en matière d’hébergement d’urgence, a souligné la responsable, Märta Terne. « Les tests réalisés sur les murs et les panneaux de
      couverture ont montré que le matériau dépasse les niveaux requis de sécurité pour ces logements provisoires ».


    • Dans le même temps que se développent des habitats-containers dont se félicitent certains designers et urbanistes, ces logements précaires pour les migrants d’aujourd’hui seront le standard de tous les pauvres de demain. Pour ce faire on insistera bien sur l’aspect bon marché et recyclage de la chose, et on fera des reportages cool et fun montrant des étudiants, pour mieux masquer la #paupérisation généralisée et la baisse des standards de vie que cette évolution entraîne.
      Bientôt on n’en sera plus à exiger un logement digne pour tous, on en sera à se satisfaire de caissons en tôle avec 3 gadgets marketing, pendant que la bourgeoisie rira dans ses villas.
      Comme le dit un type que je n’aime pas mais qui sur ce point a raison :

      Rien de ce que décident les capitalistes n’est bon pour toi. Même si de prime abord ça a l’air sympa.
      Surtout si ça a l’air sympa.

    • Dans le #film / #documentaire « Bienvenue au #Réfugistan », une critique de l’#innovation en matière de #réfugiés :

      Citation tirée du film :
      Alexander BETTS : « Ce qui inquiète dans le débat actuel autour de l’innovation c’est qu’il renforce avant tout les logiques d’une réponse humanitaire imposée par le haut. Il y a de la part des unités chargées de l’innovation une réticence à aborder frontalement ces questions, à poser les vrais problèmes, à confronter les gouvernements des pays hôtes, les gouvernement des pays donateurs et à remettre en question le cadre légal. Il faudrait remettre en cause ces logiques de #gouvernance_totalitaire imposée par le haut que vous trouvez dans les camps. Il faudrait se battre contre cette culture de la #surveillance et apporter des solutions qui transformeraient beaucoup plus en profondeur la manière dont nous concevons les défis des réfugiés aujourd’hui ».

    • IKEA Foundation and UNHCR put ‘Better Shelters’ to the test in the #Diffa region

      In the region of Diffa, UNHCR have been providing emergency shelter assistance to vulnerable refugees and displaced persons since the first refugees crossed the border fleeing Boko Haram violence in Northern Nigeria in 2013. In 2016 alone, over 65,000 people in the Diffa region benefitted from UNHCR emergency shelters.


    • Ikea donerà mobili per arredare la #Casa_Valdese di Vittoria e due casa di #Lampedusa

      Ikea Italia arrederà la Casa Valdese di Vittoria, il centro destinato alla prima accoglienza di donne migranti minorenni, non accompagnate, che formalizzeranno richiesta d’asilo. C’è il patrocinio della Prefettura di Ragusa. Si tratta di un’iniziativa di solidarietà Ikea con tre progetti in collaborazione con Unicef, a sostegno dei bambini migranti in fuga dalle guerre e dalla povertà. Interessato anche il Comune di Lampedusa dove saranno arredati due appartamenti di proprietà dell’ente civico che ospiteranno i minori non accompagnati.


    • Why IKEA’s Award-Winning Refugee Shelters Need A Redesign

      Fire safety concerns halted the rollout of Better Shelter and the IKEA Foundation’s portable, flat-pack refugee shelters to camps. The Swedish social enterprise is working on a redesign to launch later this year. We speak to their director about the lessons learned.


    • Dossier : un monde de camps — Les réfugiés, une bonne affaire, par Nicolas Autheman (@mdiplo, mai 2017) https://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2017/05/AUTHEMAN/57444

      Pour faire des économies, l’agence a créé en 2012 une branche intitulée « Laboratoire Innovation », destinée à lancer de nouveaux partenariats : Ikea pour l’habitat, la société de livraison américaine United Parcel Service (UPS) pour la logistique d’urgence, et bientôt Google pour l’apprentissage scolaire. Interrogé sur le risque de voir ces sociétés prendre une place croissante dans les processus de décision, le HCR répond invariablement que leur participation financière reste encore marginale comparée à celle des États. Pour autant, les partenariats conçus à l’origine comme de simples donations prennent de nouvelles formes. Selon M. Parker, l’agence a mis le doigt dans un engrenage dont il devient difficile de sortir : « La Fondation Ikea a promis des dizaines de millions de dollars au HCR. Et, maintenant, elle a envoyé quelqu’un en Suisse pour voir ce qu’il advient de son argent. Au début, je crois que le HCR imaginait pouvoir simplement recevoir du personnel bénévole et des dons. Il est en train d’apprendre que ce n’est pas vraiment comme cela que fonctionne le secteur privé. (...) Les entreprises ne viendront pas sans contreparties. Que dire si Ikea, par exemple, décide de tester du matériel dans les camps de réfugiés ? » Et comment réagir lorsque des parlementaires européens révèlent, comme cela s’est produit en février 2016, qu’Ikea est impliqué dans un vaste scandale d’évasion fiscale, échappant à l’impôt dans des États qui financent le HCR (La Tribune, 13 février 2016) ? L’agence de l’ONU n’en a jamais entendu parler...

    • A Slightly Better Shelter?

      The Shelter

      On January 26, 2017, the IKEA refugee shelter was declared the worldwide Design of the Year in a unanimous decision.[1] When I interviewed one of the jurors about the process I was told that they’d chosen the “obvious winner”: the IKEA shelter was high profile, it had featured widely in the media, it was a positive story with a clear social purpose, and it offered a practical solution to the so-called “refugee crisis,” one of the most significant issues of the previous twelve months.[2] The London Design Museum has been awarding the “Design of the Year” for a decade now, celebrating examples that “promote or deliver change, enable access, extend design practice, or capture the spirit of the year” (Beazley 2017). The IKEA refugee shelter seemed to match all of these aims, claiming to be modular, sustainable, long lasting, recyclable, easily assembled, affordable, and scalable. It was installed on the Greek islands to shelter newly arrived refugees in 2015, and it came with the backing of the United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency, who purchased 15,000 units for distribution around the world.

      The juror I spoke to explained that the shelter won because it “tackles one of the defining issues of the moment: providing shelter in an exceptional situation whether caused by violence and disaster…. [It] provides not only a design but secure manufacture as well as distribution.” A statement described the project as “relevant and even optimistic,” concluding, “it shows the power of design to respond to the conditions we are in and transform them” (Beazley 2017; personal interview, April 25, 2017, Design Museum, London).

      It is easy to understand why this shelter has generated so much interest since it was first announced in 2013. It has received funding from IKEA, a company that has shaped so much of everyday life in the Global North and whose minimalist modernism has populated so many domestic environments. As Keith Murphy points out, there is a social democratic spirit underpinning so much of Swedish design, a combination of simplicity, affordability, and universality that both reflects and promotes a more egalitarian social order (Murphy 2015; see also Garvey 2017). When applied to refugee housing, this has all the makings of positive story. The media are given something their readers can relate to—the experience of unpacking and constructing IKEA flat-pack furniture—and can connect it to a problem that concerns us all: how to house the millions of refugees we see on the news. The IKEA refugee shelter, the story goes, can be assembled in four to six hours with a basic manual and no specialist tools. Everything comes in two compact boxes, much like those that contain your new bed and table from the IKEA store. More attractively, the design arrives with a number of innovative little tricks, including a photovoltaic panel that provides sufficient electricity to power a small light and mobile phone charger. It seems like a heartwarming example of philanthro-capitalism, good design, and humanitarian innovation (Scott-Smith 2016). What’s not to like?

      For anyone who has actually seen the shelter up close, it looks rather mundane after this hyperbolic description. It has a rectangular floor plan, vertical walls, and a pitched roof. The shelter is fairly small, covering an area of 17.5 square meters, and it is designed to house a family of up to five people. When inside, you can look up and see the entire structure laid bare: a standalone steel frame with imposing horizontal beams, onto which foam panels are clipped. These panels are made from polyolefin, a light, flexible plastic, and they have the feeling and texture of swimming floats. They have been attached to the frame with hand-tightened bolts and brackets, and the shelter has four small ‘window’ openings, ventilation slots, and a lockable door. The main designer described its chunky, basic appearance as the kind of house “a 5-year-old would draw” (personal interview, May 18, 2017, Stockholm). It is, indeed, visually uninspiring, but this is because it is meant to be basic. Like much of IKEA’s product line, it is mass-produced, economical modernism. It is meant to offer a shelter that is immediate, quick, affordable, and easily transportable, staying as close as possible to the price and weight of the main alternative: the tent.

      Tents have been the go-to shelter for humanitarian organizations for more than 50 years. The UN Refugee Agency distributes tens of thousands of them annually, and they are still valued for their lightweight, inexpensive simplicity. To be taken seriously as a humanitarian product, therefore, the IKEA shelter needs to be comparable to the tent in terms of price and weight while making some crucial improvements. There are four, in particular, that can be found in this design. First, the IKEA shelter provides increased security through a lockable door. Second, it provides greater privacy through firmer and more opaque walls. Third, it provides improved communication with a mobile phone-charging station. And fourth, it lasts considerably longer: up to four years rather than just one. These improvements encapsulate the basic requirements for dignified living according to the designers, combining security, privacy, durability, and connection to the outside world. These features, the narrative goes, are particularly important given the protracted nature of so many contemporary refugee situations and the likelihood of a lengthy exile.[3]

      When I spoke to the designers about dignity, they came back again and again to the same material expressions, which were fascinating in their tangibility and their conception of refugee social worlds. Dignity meant being able to stand up in the IKEA shelter, which is impossible in a tent. Dignity meant having walls that were “knocky”: firmer, more secure, more resonant when tapped, which distinguished the materials from tarpaulin. Dignity meant privacy: whereas silhouettes can cause a problem in tents, the IKEA shelter does not reveal activity inside when the lights are on at night; its material is more opaque and disperses the shadows. Such improvements, however small, allow the design team to mobilize a more expansive, idealistic rhetoric. In its publicity materials, the shelter has become a “safer, more dignified home away from home for millions of displaced people across the world.” It has channeled “smart design, innovation and modern technology” to offer “a sense of peace, identity and dignity.” It is “universally welcoming”, a “home away from home” that balances “the needs of millions of people living in different cultures, climates and regions with a rational production—a single solution” (Better Shelter 2015; personal interview, May 19, 2017, Stockholm, Sweden). Far from being a better tent, this shelter has some revolutionary ambitions. But is it a better tent? Does it live up to its aims of producing a compact, cheap, lightweight product for meeting a basic human need?
      The Reaction

      The day after the announcement of the prize I sensed a collective sigh of despair among my colleagues working on refugee issues, which was tangible in personal conversations, snarky asides, and exasperated emails. The failures of the shelter were, for many of them, far too obvious. It was meager, limited, with no proper floor, no insulation, no natural light, and with a structure that let in drafts and dust. It had been oversold, under-ordered, and was described as sustainable when in fact it involved flying piles of metal and plastic around the world. It ignored established practice in the humanitarian shelter sector, which advocates the use of local materials and abundant local labor, and, above all, it was accompanied by an insistent triumphalism, with media reports pushing the narrative that an intractable problem had been solved. It had not. Managing refugee arrivals is a complex political issue that requires sustained political engagement, legal reform, and advocacy in host states to ensure investment in welfare and protection. Although these were not the aims of the IKEA refugee shelter, such lavish praise and attention, my informants felt, were a distraction. Many such “innovative designs” have become a fetish, creating a mistaken reassurance that circumstances can be controlled while obscuring a series of more serious, structural issues that remain unaddressed (Scott-Smith 2013).
      The most tangible criticisms of the IKEA shelter, I soon realized, came from two opposing directions. On the one hand, there were those who argued the shelter did too little. It was a mean little space, they suggested, that looked like a garden shed or, due to its plastic panels, a chemical toilet. This line of critique usually came from architects, who filed the object contemptuously under “product design” and declared that it involved no architectural thinking at all. Architecture, they pointed out, should respond to the site and local environment, not mass-produce a universal design with no adaptability or control. Architecture should create sensitive and carefully planned responses to specific problems, not ignore basic elements such as insulation, proper flooring, and natural light. Architecture should also be pleasing to the eye. If you took the Vitruvian triad of architectural virtues, the IKEA shelter seemed to fail on every count. Firmitas, utilitas, and venustas was the aim, but the shelter was flimsy rather than firm, flawed rather than useful, ugly rather than beautiful.[4] It was particularly galling for this group of critics that the shelter won not just Design of the Year, but that it won the architectural category as well.

      The other type of criticism came from humanitarians. They argued not that the shelter did too little, but that it did too much. It provided a fully integrated, flat-pack solution when this was rarely required or appropriate. It flew in a prefabricated house when there were better opportunities to work from the bottom up. It lionized designers when design was rarely a priority. Unlike architects, humanitarians were working in a context of limited time and limited resources. They worked with the mantra that “shelter is a process not a product,” a slogan that derives from the work of Ian Davis (1978), one of the founding thinkers of the humanitarian shelter sector, who argued that humanitarians needed to focus on the way people shelter themselves. Davis said that disaster-affected communities had their own techniques for finding and building shelter, suggesting that humanitarian shelter should mean discouraging designers and other outside “experts.” The priority should be to provide materials such as wood, nails, tarpaulin, and tape that help people build their own homes. These could be used and reused as people expanded their accommodation. The crucial task, in other words, was not to provide finished shelters, but to support people in their own process of sheltering.[5]
      The Tension

      In the middle of May 2017, I took a trip to Stockholm to meet the IKEA shelter’s design team and see how they navigated these two very different criticisms. I arrived at their headquarters on the 11th floor of the old Ericsson building in a southern suburb of the city, and spent some days learning about their brief, their aims, and their ways of thinking. The first thing that became clear was that this was not, in fact, an “IKEA shelter.” It was a designed by a group of independent Swedish industrial designers who had met at college and developed the basic idea in discussion with humanitarians in Geneva. They later received substantial financial support from the IKEA Foundation, which allowed them to refine, test, and iterate the idea, eventually leading to a commitment from the UN Refugee Agency to purchase a large number of units.

      As I learned more about the project, it soon became clear that the story of the shelter seemed to be constantly swinging like a pendulum. It was caught between the expansive utopian idealism that so often underpins the announcement of new humanitarian designs and the restricted, mundane implications of their actual implementation. Both types of criticism, in other words, were basically correct: the IKEA shelter is both ‘too much’ and ‘too little’. It is clearly a product rather than a process, so it ends up being overwrought, top-down, and “too much” for aid workers who are skeptical of universal solutions. At the same time, it has been designed to be cheap and lightweight, so it will always be “too little” for those with bigger ideas about what design can achieve (especially as it lacks many of the basic elements that are crucial to architecture, such as proper flooring, insulation, light, strength, and beauty). The formal name for the shelter seems to encapsulate this tension. It is properly called the “Better Shelter”, and I was reprimanded in Stockholm for using the name “IKEA shelter,” which remains in common parlance but has never been formally adopted.[6] This name emphasizes the restricted horizon of improvement. The product aspires to be better, but it is no more than shelter. It idealistically attempts to improve the world, but pursues this by providing basic shelter rather than engaging with a more expansive terrain of housing.

      The problem of doing too much and too little was powerfully illustrated in December 2015, when the Swiss city of Zurich conducted a fire safety test on the IKEA shelter. The video of the test was screened on the news and subsequently circulated online: it featured a series of terrifying images in which a small fire, illuminating first the translucent sides of the shelter, suddenly engulfed the scene in an explosion of flames and molten plastic. The media picked up on the story, Zurich cancelled its intended use of the shelters for new migrant arrivals, and distribution of the shelter began to slow. This was perhaps the biggest challenge the design had faced since its inception, and the fire test led to more than a year of additional work as the team made changes to the shelter’s design – mostly adjustments to the panel material. During this process, however, the design team found no clear code to work. Fire retardancy standards and testing procedures could not be found in the usual humanitarian handbooks, and so the team felt hostage to unrealistic criteria. The Swiss tests had compared the shelter with a permanent residential building, which seemed unfair (as a tent, which was the closest equivalent, would fare no better), yet it seemed impossible to object when the Swiss fire tests were released. The shelter was meant to be “better,” and the whiff of double standards would drift over the scene very quickly if they argued this was a shelter for a different population. The idea that refugee accommodation should be held to lower standards would not be good publicity for a product so concerned with the promoting dignity.

      The fire tests raised a number of questions. Is this a “slightly” Better Shelter? Or is it “sometimes” a better shelter, depending on location and context? And when, exactly, is it a better shelter – in which times and places? One thing is clear: most people would not choose to live in one of these structures because of its obvious limitations. It has no floor or insulation, barely any natural light, and a tiny living space, even if its three or four tangible improvements certainly make it better than a tent. But then again, it should be better, as it costs a good deal more than a tent: currently twice the price of a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) standard family model. Is this a problem? Don’t we expect a better shelter to be a more expensive shelter? Yet how much is too much? What if twice the price means aiding half as many people? Is this a “better” result?

      As the IKEA shelter becomes more widely used in different locations, a clear lesson has begun to emerge: that the whole product is deeply dependent on context. It is only “better” in some times and places. It may be “better” when compared with a tent, but not when compared with a Swiss apartment building. It may be “better” in a Middle Eastern refugee camp, but not in a Western European reception facility. It may be “better” when funds are plentiful and refugee numbers limited, but not when refugees are plentiful and funds limited. It might be “better” when there is an urgent need for emergency shelters, but not when there is scope for people to build a home of their own.

      The Lagom Shelter

      Perhaps this, in the end, defines the wider world of little development devices and humanitarian goods: they are simultaneously too much and too little. They are vulnerable to the charge of being too limited as well as the charge of being too expansive. They fail to tackle fundamental global injustices, but they still make numerous ideological assumptions about human life and human dignity beneath their search for modest improvements. The little development device oscillates between its grand visions of human improvement and its modest engineering in a tiny frame. The humanitarian good balances a philanthro-capitalist utopia with the minimalist aim of saving lives. All of this is encapsulated in the slightly Better Shelter. When I discussed these thoughts with the team in Stockholm, they basically agreed, and reached for the Swedish word lagom to describe their aims. It is tricky to translate, but means something like “the right amount,” “neither too little nor too much.” The Better Shelter is lagom because it has to be viable as well as adding value. It has to negotiate with the critics who claim it is “too much” as well as those who say it does “too little.” The shelter could never please architectural critics because it was only designed as a cheap, short-term home, and it would never please bottom-up humanitarian practitioners because it was too top-down and complete. Lagom captures the search for balance while reflecting a wider ethos of democratic Swedish design.[7]

      Yet aspiring to be lagom does not make the central tension disappear. Just like being “better,” being lagom depends on context. What counts as “just enough” depends on where you are, who you are, and what you are doing. Something lagom in Sweden may not be lagom elsewhere. This became apparent just before the Better Shelter was launched, when a handful of units were shipped to Lebanon for a practical test with refugees. On their arrival in the Bekaa Valley, a group of armed and angry Lebanese neighbors appeared. The shelters, in their view, were too permanent. It did not matter that they had no foundations. It did not matter that they could be removed in less than a day. It did not matter that the walls and roof would degrade in just a few years. The structures were too solid, and the authorities agreed.[8] The Better Shelter had become “too much” for the Lebanese political context, just as in Switzerland it had become “too little.” The same features that made it insufficient in one country made it extravagant in another.

      So although the Better Shelter tries to be better everywhere, it can never hope to adapt to the infinite complexity of refugee crises and its scales became disrupted when butting up against hard political realities. Since 2013, the designers have been working assiduously in Stockholm to optimize every component: changing the clips and panel material, redesigning the bolts and vents, refining the door and frame. They think an improved product can overcome both the Swiss fire tests and the Lebanese resistance. But what is “better” will always change with context. The Lagom Shelter can only be truly Lagom on the 11th floor of the old Ericcson building in Stockholm. As soon as it moves, the balance changes. Lagom cannot be built into any universal form.


      Avec cette bibliographie :


      Beazley. 2017. “Flat-packed refugee shelter named best design of 2016”. Beazley Design of the Year Press Release, 26.01.2017. Available at link: https://www.beazley.com/news/2017/winners_beazley_designs_of_the_year.html

      Better Shelter. 2015. Better Shelter: A Home Away From Home. Better Shelter Promotional Leaflet. Available at link: http://www.bettershelter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/About_Better-Shelter.pdf

      Davis, I. 1978. Shelter After Disaster. Oxford, UK: Oxford Polytechnic Press.

      Garvey, P. 2017. Unpacking Ikea Cultures: Swedish Design for the Purchasing Masses. London, UK: Routledge.

      Murphy, K. 2015. Swedish Design: An Ethnography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

      Scott-Smith, T. 2013. “The Fetishism of Humanitarian Objects and the Management of Malnutrition in Emergencies.” Third World Quarterly 34(5): 913-28.

      ———. 2016. “Humanitarian Neophilia: The Innovation Turn and Its Implications.” Third World Quarterly 37(12): 2229–2251.

      ———. 2017. “The Humanitarian-Architect Divide.” Forced Migration Review 55:67-8.

      Sewell, Abby, and Charlotte Alfred. 2017. “Evicted Refugees in Lebanon Have Nowhere Left to Run.” Refugees Deeply, September 28. Available at link: https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2017/09/28/nowhere-left-to-run-refugee-evictions-in-lebanon-in-shadow-of-return