Ikea shelters rejected by Swiss due to fire risk

Ikea shelters rejected by Swiss due to fire risk
Zurich had purchased the shelters with the aim of using them to house 250 people by early January. Photo: Ikea Foundation
UPDATED: The Swiss city of Zurich has announced it will not use the 62 Ikea refugee shelters it has purchased to house asylum-seekers after a test showed they constituted a fire hazard.

Amid growing numbers of refugees and other migrants arriving in Switzerland, Zurich city councillor Raphael Golta on Friday morning unveiled a large hall filled with dozens of Ikea ready-to-assemble refugee shelters.

The city had purchased the shelters with the aim of using them to house 250 people by early January. But just a few hours later, the city was forced to announce that a fire safety test had revealed the shelters do not live up to Swiss fire protection requirements.

The test showed the temporary shelters “are easily combustible,” the city of Zurich said in a statement.

Golta voiced surprise at the verdict, but insisted the city had done its best under the circumstances.

“We have to host 40 percent more asylum seekers in the space of two months, so we had to move quickly to choose the best solution available,” he told the RTS public broadcaster.

The shelters, developed in cooperation between Swedish furniture giant Ikea and the UN refugee agency, have already reportedly been deployed by the thousand in refugee camps and in places like Greece that are facing a heavy influx of migrants.

The city of Zurich said it had relied on safety information from the UNHCR and a Swedish study.

But regional authorities had requested a new test after learning that a German report this week raised concerns about the accuracy of the Swedish study.

UNHCR spokeswoman Anja Klug told Swiss news agency ATS on Friday that the organisation was preparing to compare the Swiss and Swedish safety test results.

“If we discover problems, we will seek a solution,” she said, stressing though that the shelters are “emergency housing, temporary solutions, which we consider better than tents.”

Maerta Terne, a spokeswoman for the Better Shelter project, born out of a collaboration between the Ikea Foundation and the UN refugee agency, told AFP she could not comment on the Swiss safety test before seeing a “translation of the report on the results and the method used.”

However, she stressed the tests against European safety standards “on the walls and covering panels showed that the material held a security level superior to that required for temporary shelter.”

The Swiss canton of Aargau, which had been planning to house 300 asylum seekers in the Ikea shelters within a few months, also said Friday it was seeking alternatives following the Zurich test results.

Switzerland is expecting to receive some 39,000 asylum applicants this year, up from 23,800 in 2014.