Displacement of people’s settlements is a part of human experience. Fleeing, disaster or violence is among the least desirable aspects of the human condition, and remains among the world most difficult challenges.
According to Guardian Press, the number of refuges passed 50 million for the first time since the second World War II. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) also releases number of refugees every June, in an annual report. By June 2014, the number of forcibly removed refugees was 51.2 million. Based on UN definitions, a refugee is someone who fled her or his home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of her/ his race, religion, nationality, member in a social group or political opinion,” according to United Nation 1951 refugee convention.
The emergence of organizations such as United Nations (UN), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), World Health Organization (WHO); and the great increase in number of temporary and permanent shelters; from planned camps to self-settled camps; show the need for studies on displaced people and their needs. The interrelationship between shelters and peoples’ behavior and the mental well-being of displaced communities holds environmental psychologists attention, meanwhile efforts have been made by many architects to design shelters in these environments, a majority of them focused on the construction of these shelters, not people’s and communities’ behaviors in these built environments. Most of the architects and designers consider these shelters as single units but they fail to consider people and their physical and behavioral operations.
From 2011, civil conflicts arose in parts of Middle East what has been called “The Arab Spring”. In the spring of 2011 conflicts arose between the Syrian government and some political groups, which lead to a civil war, and many people, left the country. In March 2013, UNCHR announced that the number of refugee fleeing the Syrian conflict had reached the one million mark. Since that time, the refugee exodus has continued, the largest numbers of people fleeing to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Responding to this emergency, the Assistant High Commissioner for Operations (AHCO) requested the Policy Development and Evaluation Service (PDES), to lead a review of UNHCR’s response to this refugee emergency, focusing on Jordan.
On the other hand, in recent years, many designers have come up with innovative designs for transitional shelters, but dealing with cost, weight, volume, land rights, and political barriers make it difficult for organizations in charge to implement them. One of the biggest refugee agencies, UNCHR, is mostly working with Stanford University and Ennead Architects in New York City to design and build transitional and permanent housing in respond to post disasters.
Political, organizational and economic factors are at play in choosing the appropriate types of housing for displaced populations. There is a need for organizations and architects to study and consider human behavior in these built environments. Refugees are affected by different factors; losing their homes, leaving their home country or victimized by political or tribal violence, they may have already attained mental and behavioral damages, and they need care to heal traumas of those damages and circumstances. Behavioral scientists have studied the effects of built environment on displaced people.
UN, UNCHR and other humanitarian organizations performed much research on the refugees housing issues. UNCHR promotes exchange of information among policy makers, researchers, humanitarians, planners and architects. But architects focused mostly on the construction of shelters and failed to consider other aspects of it such as cultural sensitivity.
According to Syam Rachma Marcillia and Ryuzo Ohno’s article on refugee camps and their residents’ adjustments; “Housing reconstruction cases without cultural sensitivity resulted in rejection.” Housing displaced population without considering their culture will result in rejection and misbehavior. Creators of these environments must consider inhabitants previous life style, dwelling and their cultural and behavioral identity.
By studying and analyzing images of refugee camps, I realized that residents of camps adjust their physical and behavioral life to their current housing and environment to sustain and protect a feeling of security and attachment to their new environment.