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Life-enhancing innovation for refugees

Technical expertise from REHAU supports aid project in Iraq.


The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimates that one person is forcibly displaced from their home every two seconds as a result of conflicts or social persecution. Many of these refugees are young, under 18 years of age, and suddenly find the only world they know turned upside-down.

Becoming a refugee is tough enough, but displaced people also need to flee the danger they initially face before finding a new safe place to rest and consider how they will rebuild their lives.

REHAU has partnered with a Belgian team of architects and engineers from DMOA to support a remarkable project to provide life-improving shelter to child refugees in Iraq.

The story begins with the remarkable Maggie Shelter, an innovative small building that looks like a tent but features double layers walls and insulation. The structure is strong and weather-resistant and can provide a safe shelter for refugees for up to 15 years. It takes only two days for six people to set up a Maggie Shelter as big as 100 square metres and the walls and roof can then be filled with locally available materials like sand and even waste plastic to provide insulation for the occupants.

However, the weather conditions at the Sharya refugee camp in northern Iraq can be brutal. In summer, temperatures can reach unbearable levels, while the winters are cruelly cold and wet. As trauma psychologist Dr Michelle Sanders explains “The Yezidis live in inhumane conditions. Winters are hard. Their tents leak and are full of mud.” To stay warm in winter, many refugees rely on burning kerosene stoves which release potentially fatal carbon monoxide and create a constant risk of catastrophic fires raging across the camp.

Engineers from REHAU worked with local volunteers on the “Maggie goes to Yezidi” project. Together with local non-governmental organisation Panaga, they set out to create a safe infrastructure for traumatised children at the Sharya camp.

Several “Maggie Shelter” tents had been adapted for regular teaching and therapy programmes for refugee children. They were proving hugely beneficial while treating children for the trauma inflicted on them by war, abuse and captivity but the team needed a safe, low maintenance, and energy efficient heating and cooling system to ensure the buildings could be used safely all year round.

Following an initial design assessment, three Maggie Shelters providing around 200 square metres of protected space were fitted out with modern underfloor heating and cooling systems. These were produced and donated by REHAU. Thanks to its low structural height and lightweight components, the system could be quickly and easily integrated into the tent construction, with just one central pump providing cooling and heating.

“With our underfloor heating system, we have created the right functionality for some very challenging climatic conditions,” says Joost Saelens, Country Manager BeLux at REHAU. “And, above all, we have eliminated the threat the old kerosene stoves posed to the health and safety of the children.”

As a globally active family company, REHAU is proud to support this project and continues to share technical expertise to benefit other temporary housing programmes for refugees around the world.

Engineering progress

Enhancing lives