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Article 25: ‘Buildings must be part of the short-term refugee relief effort’

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Humanitarian architecture charity Article 25 has said efforts to relieve the refugee crisis have overlooked buildings, planning and infrastructure

Managing director of Article 25 Robin Cross, said: ‘Buildings are not seen as part of the relief effort so they just don’t get done. We need to see long-term thinking. Building work needs to be seen as part of the solution.’

He said that funding model also needed to be changed to allow basic infrastructure, schools and clinics to be built in the camps.   

‘The average amount of time spent in a refugee camp is around seven to ten years. This is the whole of a childhood. These camps need schools. The lack of schools fails to set up a whole generation of children for a prosperous life’, he said.  

‘We need semi-permanent schools which have water, toilets, and a safe place to learn. These should be a midway solution.’

Cross added: ‘If there were better facilities in camps people would be less likely to make the risky journeys to Europe. We should be improving the living conditions for refugees in these camps.’

‘We should be improving conditions for refugees in these camps’

The comments come as a study by the University of Birmingham and Doctors of the World has found that camps in Calais are failing to meet recommended standards set out by the World Health Organisation or the UN Refugee Agency.

The independent report, which is the first of its kind to be carried out, found that poor living conditions, overcrowding, and a lack of basic infrastructure was leading to the spread of disease.

Looking at the informal ‘Jungle’ camp near the port of Calais, the study said that ‘living spaces have condensation and are cold at night and prone to overheating during sunlight hours.’

It added: ‘Many informal living quarters examined are fragile and leak rainwater, soaking bedding and clothes.’

Around 3,000 migrants from countries including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Egypt and Pakistan are currently living in the Jungle camp.

One of the report’s authors, Surindar Dhesi, said: ‘Investment in infrastructure including toilets, handwashing facilities, and stable and secure accommodation is urgently needed as the winter approaches.’

Fellow author Thom Davies, added: ‘The solutions to the public health problems found in the camp can only be comprehensively resolved through political agreements between EU member states on formal housing and resettlement of asylum seekers. Only a broad solution on this scale can ensure the long-term health and security of residents of the camp.’

Comment:

Phil Khorassandjian, architect and international infrastructure expert at Health Partners International
‘I’m not sure how much the architectural profession can do in this type of situation where the root cause is a dysfunctional national framework and is still ongoing. In international aid programmes we look at problems in three main areas; emergency, transitional and long term, each with its own set of priorities and range of solutions. 

‘The emergency situation has most probably been dealt with already by UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] and the International Red Cross and Crescent - water, sanitation and tents or tarpaulin shelters, basic personal needs. Much of this will be ongoing. Clean drinking water will have to be trucked in to refugee camps on a daily basis.

‘Transitioning from emergency to long term is problematical because we’re dealing with refugees - by definition a population that is removed, displaced, from its home environment. Do they want to set up a new home in the refugee camp for the long term? Do we provide them with new homes, schools, jobs where they are taking refuge? Do we build a New Town? Or a network of new towns? I doubt it. 

‘Under conditions resulting from natural disasters we work to provide emergency aid to victims and then strive to return them to normality - back to their home environment where we might help to rebuild their dwellings and provide the means for them to benefit from income generating activities. This is clearly not the case here. We can’t help these people to get back because they’re fleeing violence and the lack of  a life supporting framework. The real solution is to make their countries better. 

‘We could of course do something with the camps. Better shelters, better sanitation, schools, gardens, jobs, things to do. But the investment into these facilities might be better put into relocating the refugees into permanent homes where they can find work and safety for their families. But even if we were to improve the camps we would be faced with potentially intractable political problems. Host nations would be very resistant, I would conjecture, to allow permanent or even semi-permanent buildings and infrastructure to be constructed. 

‘I’ve worked in Indonesia after the Tsunami, in Pakistan after earthquakes, in Haiti after an earthquake. The architectural solutions are simple; they have to be, for reasons of sustainability. Most developing countries have sufficiently skilled architects and technicians these days and often they know better than Western minds what is needed, what is possible and what is sensible. The problems come from lack of funding (and this has become worse since the financial crash), and from land ownership issues. We can build good homes for beneficiaries but if the land doesn’t belong to them they are just tenants. The owner of the land might evict them in a year’s time and benefit from one, two, ten, one hundred houses built for him by the international community - and the refugees become displaced yet again….

‘There are many ideas developed over the years for better quality shelters that provide insulation and security and privacy and can be erected quickly with unskilled labour but even if the funding was available I doubt the Political imperative would allow aid agencies to construct them.

‘But the solutions lie either in making things better in the originating countries or hosting refugees in safe countries. Personally I don’t think we should be looking to build large scale accommodation at least not in one place.

‘It is better to have a large scale construction programme for new dwellings throughout the country. Avoid ghettoisation and maximise the potential for social integration.’ 

 

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