Displaced People Reusing Buildings


Erbil Urban Site


During the last 10 years, there has been an increased interest in testing, shaping and re-shaping the built environment as an approach to housing people from nations during war or in post-conflict transition from a negative to more sustainable positive peace.


As part of this interest, I have spent quite a lot of time visiting official/formal and informal camps, they host the displaced, and they are often confrontational new places where people (displaced by conflict, famine or persecution) have sort or have been allocated refuge. Over the years, I have been struck by how often people and their places have inspired me.


This is a short article sharing examples of displaced people who were helped to locate and re-use vacant buildings to notable effect.


In these examples of #informalcamps, buildings were found to host displaced families that came together to shoulder collectively the burden of being displaced.


Once a building was found and adapted, it wasn’t long before the children began to attend local schools, adults found temporary work and the displaced collective made a positive connection with the law enforcement in the area.


The camp’s family units were then well placed to take turns in looking after the young, sick or elderly. There developed a collective effort to support the vulnerable family members and develop useful networks of information which served several unofficial camps whilst welcoming support from the host community, and various NGOs.


These informal camps, despite looking somewhat abstract and precarious had distinct advantages. By re-using an original solid structure, the displaced community benefited from a robust and secure envelope that offered protection from the elements, a structure that often had access to services and an address. They also helped alleviate the pressure on services and infrastructure in other areas that often suffer from overcrowding, massive rental increases, debt, forced evictions and competition for employment and services which often led to conflict with the host community.



Example 1

The property was a disused farm storage facility. The property has a concrete frame with block or brickwork exterior walls. Thanks to the IOM, the property has electricity, water, warm water storage, a kitchen, an area for ablutions, and private family living and sleeping quarters. The property has been fitted with lockable doors and screens for security. The doors and screens also protect the considerable number of snakes and scorpions that frequent the property at night


The families were displaced from the Sinjar area. The building housed seven families that left Sinjar together. The families have developed a cohesive and resilient community, sharing resources and supporting each other financially. The children attend the local school and the families try to play a positive part within the host community. The host community has welcomed the IDP families and the local police visit regularly.



Example 2

A Fish Farm building - The site is a combination of original old mud and block units and a newly built concrete unit extension, allowing one unit per family. The site has a filtered water supply, solar-powered facilities, electricity supply (intermittently), warm water storage and security supplied by the IOM CMMM programme. The site buildings have air-conditioning, a yard with poultry and each family has sleeping/living rooms and a kitchen. The family received WFP assistance and the farmer offers manual labour opportunities and provides the families with fish. All properties have been fitted with lockable doors and screens for security. And again, the doors and screens also protect the considerable number of snakes and scorpions that frequent the property during the day and night




Example 3

This informal camp is located on a dormant construction site, within an urban which was in the process of industrial and residential development before the conflict started. The six IDP families inhabit the lower ground floor of a concrete skeletal structure intended for commercial development. The structure is an ideal temporary accommodation site offering a spacious and relatively private environment to stay in whilst protecting the families and their belongings from the heat, rain and wind. Within the host building, the families have created temporary timber and tarpaulin living units, and areas to cook and wash for each family. The camp community is well supported by the IOM CMMM programme providing, doors, windows, building materials support and technical expertise and instruction. The camps have access to water and electricity (mainline and generator) which powers, air-conditioning, refrigeration, lighting, warm water storage and cooking facilities. The families are well organised socially and have effective communication with other informal camps in the local area, a network from which information and support are available.



Telafar City outskirts


Northern Iraq: Adaptation with facilities in mind


Power adaptation in Farm building

Central Iraq Urban carpark adaptation


Indonesia: New build Mosque next to a Church that made use of an existing village structure


Article written by Frazer Macdonald Hay, all images by Author