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Refugee housing Swiss reject Ikea refugee homes as potential fire risks

The Ikea temporary homes had recently been installed in Zurich

(Keystone)

The city of Zurich and canton Aargau have given up the idea of housing 300 refugees in mobile Ikea units, as the temporary accommodation does not meet fire safety standards, the authorities said on Friday. The shelters, which were recently set up, will now be dismantled.

In October, the Zurich authorities announced that they intended to house refugees in 62 temporary Ikea homes inside former industrial buildings. Each easy-to-install unit offers space for four people and costs CHF1,200. 

However, a cantonal test revealed that the plastic walls and ceiling can catch fire easily and so refugees' safety would not be guaranteed, the city of Zurich declared in a statement. 

The Ikea units will therefore have to be dismantled. AOZ, a local refugee organisation, will now have to find alternative accommodation for the refugees. 

“We were surprised by the results of the test,” said Raphael Golta, Zurich’s director of social affairs, adding that the units are used around the world, in particular in Greece, which has welcomed thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq. 

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which helped create the units together with the Ikea Foundation, had assured that they offered proper fire protection. 

The Zurich cantonal test was carried out after the local authorities were warned about the safety of the units following a German test. 

“The safety of refugees is essential,” declared Anja Klug, director for UNHCR’s office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The agency plans to compare the results of the Swiss tests with those carried out in Sweden.

But she reminded that the units were designed as temporary, emergency solutions that are much better than tents. 

Canton Aargau said it would not install the Ikea units as planned for refugees. Cantons Basel and Fribourg were also considering using the Ikea units. 

Housing challenge

Swiss migration officials anticipate 39,000 asylum applicants for 2015, an increase on recent years but below the peaks of the 1990s. 

Local resistance and a dearth of suitable accommodation mean that housing for asylum-seekers remains a challenge. 

In order to put up new arrivals for short periods, the cantons and communes have resorted to providing a wide range of unusual properties such as underground military bunkers, converted shipping containers, army tents, hospitals, an old fire station and even a country mansion.

swissinfo.ch with agencies

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