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UPPSUM Seminar WS 2013/2014

Task 2 Adham Sannaa, 2894133



Forced population displacement continued to affect large number of people worldwide, marking
the previous years by refugee crisis and reaching levels unseen since 1999. According to UNHCR
the conflict in Syrian Arab republic forced at least two million refugees into neighboring
countries like Iraq, turkey, Jordan and Lebanon causing the emergence of refugee camps in all
of these countries.
An article written by Katherine Allen triggered questions concerning what is the role of
architects and planners in designing these settlements and what kind of solutions are needed to
improve the quality of life in these camps.
Through the comparison of two case studies, the Syrian refugee camps in turkey and the Syrian
refugee camps in Jordan especially al Zaatari camp, This article will try to answer her questions
taking into consideration UNHCR refugee camps protocol and the host country legal framework
and policies as main actors in camps planning.
Since we are dealing with a dynamic issue, constantly changing on a daily basis, the comparison
of the case studies will focus only on three main specific points. Respectively, each one will
tackle a different scale in order to distinguish and characterize some of the tasks carried out by
the architect and the planner.

Facing the reality
Philipp Misselwitz started his book Rehabilitating camp cities by discussing how refugee
camps are thought of, as temporary transitory emergency situation that exist to protect certain
population of displaced people, run by humanitarian missions and rarely included in the
architecture and planning discourse (P. Misselwitz, 2009). He argues that, the reality is more
complex than just a set of tents being changed every six months. Public spaces, markets and
streets are evolving; the dwellers of the camps are adapting with the new conditions, learning
survival technics and trying to improve their quality of life (P. Misselwitz, 2009). Understanding
this dynamic nature of the camps and compare it with the development of cities will give an
UPPSUM Seminar WS 2013/2014
Task 2 Adham Sannaa, 2894133

explanation to the unexpected results, which could reach extreme scenarios like the
urbanization of Palestine refugee camps.

The Role of Host governance, The Syrian case
Generally speaking, the refugee camps host governments act from necessity. They are reacting
to an emergency, forcing them either to accept the refugees or to let them die. International
organizations concerned with refugees urge the host governments to house camps and usually
they agree when sufficient donors exists (John D. Liu, 2009).
In the case of Syrian refugees in Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, more than 500,000 Syrians
were provided asylum in the last two years. The 1998 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU),
between UNHCR and the Government, is the basis for UNHCR's activities in Jordan. Two
Refugee camps AL-Zaatari and Azraq were built on land provided and secured by the
authorities (UNHCR, 2014).
While in turkey and since the beginning of the crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic in 2011, over
500,000 Syrians have sought protection in Turkey, according to Government estimates.
There are currently 21 camps in 10 provinces hosting more than 201,000 Syrian refugees.
Another 300,000 to 400,000 Syrians are residing in Turkish cities, mostly in the provinces of
Hatay, Gaziantep and Sanliurfa. By the end of 2013, it was estimated that one million Syrians
will arrive in Turkey, Approximately 300,000 of them in camps (UNHCR, 2014).
This fact will put further pressure on Turkey and the international community, in their efforts to
assist those in camps and to register and ensure access to essential services for those refugees
residing outside the camps (UNHCR, 2014).
The distribution of refugee population on two camps and restrictive legal framework in Jordan
has led to over dense camps with rapid expansion. According to UNOSAT, between 15
November 2012 and 26 February 2013, shelters in Al-Zaatari camp increased by 378% causing
lack of sufficient food supplies and increasing number of reports of crime. In March 2013, Al-
Zaatari camp authorities stopped releasing demographic data of individual counts (A.Jarrar,
While in turkey, the government has assumed responsibility for assisting, sheltering and
protecting the refugees in the 21 camps. The emergency response by the authorities to the
influx of Syrians has been exemplary. In 2014-2015, it is anticipated that the hospitality and
support provided for Syrian and non-Syrian refugees hosted in Turkey will remain significant,
UPPSUM Seminar WS 2013/2014
Task 2 Adham Sannaa, 2894133

including access to health services, psychosocial counseling, education, and legal and physical
protection (UNHC Report describing the Turkish governmental response, 2014).

Camps planning; rethinking the guidelines
Jim Kennedy described in his article (Challenging camp design guidelines, 2010), how the
urgency to sit a refugee camp in a short time makes professionals turn to UNHCRs Handbook
for Emergencies, which is a set of manuals designed to define everything from the minimum
area of shelter space needed per person to the width of the firebreaks required within the camp.
Armed with these guidelines, a camp planner can negotiate for land and design a layout for a
given number of inhabitants (J. Kennedy, 2010).
In reality and after two years, the camps become overcrowded and personal spaces of the
individuals are denied. Describing the cause of this result, he says: This is not usually the result
of unexpected additional influxes of displaced people but a consequence of flaws within the
guidelines themselves (J. Kennedy, 2010: 1)
Both Katherine Allen and Jim Kennedy agree that a long term solutions should be considered.
As Kennedy mentioned, the guidelines suggest an annual population growth rate in refugee
camps of 3-4% but usually they failed to act on the consequences and he explains that
UNHCRs manual recommends the promotion of economic enterprises for camp residents but
does not assign space for the workshops, home-based enterprises, granaries or tool storage
which these require. In order to create a camp which provides shelter with dignity to all its
residents and which will continue after many years to comply with the minimum standards set
out in the guidelines, the numeric formulae they use need considerable adaptation (J.
Kennedy, 2010: 1).
He then implies that according to the guideline each person has 45m that includes a plot for
vegetables gardening. However, once the space stipulated as necessary for Non-residential
buildings and buffer zones between shelters is taken into account, the 45m quickly starts to
disappear (J. Kennedy, 2010).
Kennedy suggested that the right methodology for camp design is the bottom up approach,
which is included in the UNHCR handbook but constantly ignored, starting with the tent and
ending with a space for the pathways and firebreaks. For instance, the necessary Shelter space
for a family of five is usually 22.5m, but in reality, this should be 31.5m so the family would be
able to expand to seven members over time and that is not considered in the guideline.
UPPSUM Seminar WS 2013/2014
Task 2 Adham Sannaa, 2894133

The UNHCR tents come only in two sizes: a single family plot/shelter and much larger non-
residential buildings. Kennedy claims that this division causes tension and social instability and
adding to that, lack privacy for the tents located next to the public tents.
In the case of Al-Zaatari camp, the lack of accurate information on the total number of people
residing in the camp made even providing refugees with their essential daily needs a challenging
task (Reach, 2013).
According to REACH institute, accessibility to primary infrastructure, like water, was not
possible, due to the lack of information about the private and public water storage
capacity throughout the different sectors of Al-Zaatari (Reach, 2013).
The challenge is to convince humanitarian community and host government authorities that
changes in the planning and assessing guidelines is needed and adapting new approaches will
lead for better camps (J. Kennedy, 2010).

Tent sustainable design
Until now, the best elemental protection that relief workers could often provide to refugees, have
been cheap canvas UN tents that start to disintegrate after about six months.
Large refugee organizations such as the UNHCR have come to realize that traditional relief-
based tents are not sustainable and new approaches should be produced.
Accordingly, UNHCR tested a high-tech approach, IKEA/UNHCR shelters, made by Ikea in
Ethiopia last august. The new Ikea-inspired shelters are built to last for 6 years. They are twice
as large as an old-school refugee tent and take about four hours to assemble. Although the
design costs twice as much upfront, it offers better temperature control, solar energy for light in
the evening and a little more privacy for the inhabitants (Ikea foundation, 2013).
Another example of High-tech expensive proposals made by the Dutch firm DUS architects was
the mobile 3d printer KamerMaker, which is able to print a room from recycled materials.
On the other hand, a refugee shelter research at EiABC was made to find suitable, sustainable,
safe, environmentally friendly and simple shelter solutions which could be easily constructed by
the refugees themselves, to encourage a sense of ownership of the shelter while using low tech
For instance, one of the results was producing a Bamboo tent in Ethiopia which has, 7% of the
world total and 67% of the African, bamboo forest area. That costs significantly less than the
currently available UNHCR metal framed plastic sheet tent (EiABC, 2013).

UPPSUM Seminar WS 2013/2014
Task 2 Adham Sannaa, 2894133

The population under UNHCR responsibility was 35.8 million persons. This number made
scholars thinks of the missing role of architects and planners, who with their expertise and
knowledge of how temporary cities grow, could make a long-lasting difference.
Of course, there are always challenges that will be facing the architects and the planners of
camps. Camps planning is constrained due to the camps political nature and they are mostly
designed according to the host country limitations not on the best interest of their inhabitants.
The Syrian refugee camps in Turkey case shows that the distribution of refugees to a number of
camps in a number of provinces is an effective, sustainable way of managing refugees on the
national level. In addition to providing the basics needs for the refugees, this strategy will help
them to adapt with the new situation they are living in. While in the case of Jordan, the two
highly dense camps provided by the authority suffered from urban and humanitarian crisis, in
spite of the international relief support by UNHCR.
The discussion made by Jim Kennedy on the camp planning tackles how current UNHCR
guidelines handbook, that being used as essential tool for camp planning, does not always
consider the onsite needs not related to shelter. This protocol fails to serve the future needs of
the inhabitants by not thinking of expansion on small scale.
These discussions help us to think again of how to negotiate with authorities for more land and
how to think of spaces in camps, to draw a line between public and private spaces and to provide
dignity and privacy in parallel with the shelter and the food.
If architecture is the expression of the society, then, surely these citizens deserve architecture
that expresses them and fulfill their needs. Architects can contribute with high-tech solutions
when there is a funding, to make a long term tents or by thinking of low-tech solutions that
make use of the refugee community and develop a climate resilient, environmentally friendly

UPPSUM Seminar WS 2013/2014
Task 2 Adham Sannaa, 2894133


Allen, Katherine: Beyond the Tent: Why Refugee Camps Need Architects, 2013.
Kennedy, Jim: Challenging camp design guidelines, 2010.
UNHCR Global Trends, Displacement the new 21st century challenge, 2012
Misselwitz, Philipp, Rehabilitating camp cities, 2009.
UNHCR country operations profile Turkey, 2014.
UNHCR country operations profile Jordan, 2014.
REACH informing more effective humanitarian action, supporting more effective water supply
in Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan.
Liu, John, Thoughts on designing refugee camps, 2009.
UNOSAT, UNITAR, s36 operational satellite applications program.