World Refugee Day

Today, on World Refugee Day, we want to thank our supporters and also extend our thanks to our valued partners, the Ikea Foundation and UNHCR.

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Kara Tepe site, Lesvos, 2016.

One year ago, in June 2015, we delivered the very first shipment of Better Shelter units. Then, little did we know that we would soon begin receiving requests from countries all over Europe seeking to house newly arrived asylum seekers. Neither could we imagine that one year later, hundreds of thousands would have slept in a Better Shelter in Greece.

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A Syrian father and his children in Kara Tepe site, Lesvos, 2015.

More than 6000 persons have died in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to escape conflict and seek protection in Europe, during 2015 and 2016. On the Greek island of Lesvos, The Better Shelter team has met with courageous children, women and men who despite the great risks, managed to make it over safely, aware of the long journey and the challenges ahead but with endless hope and determination to establish a new life in Europe. Some have had their whole family with them. Others have come to reunite with children or spouses already in Europe. Some have come all alone, with their family still in Syria, in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

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A Syrian refugee controls the departure time on his ferry ticket to Athens. In Kara Tepe site, Lesvos, 2015.

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Assembly team at work! Kara Tepe site, Lesvos 2015.

We have witnessed acts of kindness and solidarity shown by Lesvos locals who have been supporting the newcomers in any way they can; the traveling agent who spent most of her days patiently explaining the complicated ferry booking system and schedule to every new group of refugees who arrived at her shop every other minute (she used an elaborate series of sign language with those who did not speak English); the UNHCR camp manager of Kara Tepe site who let us know that he regards and treats all refugees at the site as guests in his own home, as well as the fantastic assembly team that efficiently set up more than 200 Better Shelter units on the island during the autumn of 2015. Not to mention all the individuals at UNHCR, Médecins du Monde, Samaritan’s Purse, Euro Relief and IRC that we were lucky to meet and work with on Lesvos.

Harith Al Janabi, 55, Assistant Shelter Officer for UNHCR Iraq with some of the many children of Al Jamea'a camp in Central Baghdad ; In 2014, large numbers of Iraq Nationals were displaced by armed groups. Many fled to the Baghdad area in search of safety. Camp Al Jamea'a was opened by Iraq Authorities in April 2015.The Refugee Housing Units were installed in September 2015.

Displaced Iraqi children with UNHCR staff in Al Jamea’a Camp, Baghdad. UNHCR/Sebastian Rich

Since June last year we have together with UNHCR provided thousands of refugees with shelter in Greece, FYR of Macedonia, Iraq, Niger, Chad and Djibouti. Together with Botswana Innovation Hub, we launched a pilot program in Botswana where the shelters are being evaluated as temporary homes across the country. In Nepal and South Sudan, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides medical services in Better Shelter units.

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A Syrian family in Kara Tepe site, Lesvos, 2016.

Our vision is a world in which all people have a safe place to call home. We act out of solidarity and the conviction that all human beings have an equal right to a safe and dignified life, also during displacement. We believe in diverse societies where all people share the same rights to work and to study, to live, love and build a safe life for themselves and their family. Better Shelter’s mission is to provide a temporary dwelling for persons who have fled war or natural disasters and we will remain true to this mission, while continuing to improve the homes that we develop in order to provide vulnerable persons with increased safety and dignity during displacement.