More than Shelters: Reconceptualizing the Notion of Refugee Camps


Daniel Kerber is the founder and manager of More Than Shelters (MTS) whose mission is to create permanent habitat for people in distress and give them the opportunity to actively co-create their future. MTS foster innovative and inclusive solutions in order to re-conceptualize the notion of refugee camps. The organization already won several awards: BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, responsible Leaders Awards; Zumtobel-Award in international competition; ZEIT-Foundation 1. Prize; Hamburg based award for sustainable development; Werkstatt-N-Project award assigned by the Sustainability Council of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Social Impact-Projekt; Roskilde Festival award special prize at the "Global Creative Business Cup in Kopenhagen; Hamburg Innotech-Preis award for innovative business models and German National Award for outstanding entrepreneurs within creative industries.

How do you see the refugee resettlement in European and in Middle Eastern countries? What are the gaps between what is offered and what is needed?

The differences between how Europe, or at least Germany, and the Middle East, for example Jordan are vast, one could be the amount of refugees and asylum seekers each country has taken in. Germany has taken in a great deal of refugees, and even though the country, considered to be one of the “top countries”, is facing a great deal of challenges regarding housing, integration and xenophobia. Jordan still being a developing country is facing their fair share of challenges. However, it is considered to provide loyal and generous refuge in the area. Throughout all the wars and political turmoil in the Middle East the last decades, Jordan maintains an open arms policy regardless of all the deficits and difficulties they are facing, but they still have at least one thing the citizens of the surrounding countries need – no wars, and an overall much lower occurrence of catastrophic violence. What is offered is shelter (which also sometimes is not successfully provided). What is needed is a home, even if it is temporary. Human beings are running away from their homes; homes they did not want to leave. They are then accommodated in huge mass refugee camps, some formal, most informal, some with conditions so bad that the people still do not comprehend that they are safe again. So inflexible housing instead of flexible one. The problem is also that municipalities and countries take refugees in and treat them like refugees, which is beneficial as it urges them to take them in even though some instability will occur. On the other hand, it psychologically still does harm to them as they are not only denied their homes, they are also denied being actual people, and they are deemed as nothing but refugees. While Jordan needs aid to help improve its own infrastructure, economic markets amongst other things to be able to help refugees in housing them, providing clothing and food, Germany faces difficulty in effectively integrating the people considering their different cultures, religions, and traditions. To repeat they are only referred to as refugees instead of individuals, so they end up surviving on charity and donations, instead of being encouraged to consider creating startups or initiatives. I am not saying we should give them replicas of what they had in their home countries, but at least to give them a sense of home, dignity, privacy, a place to be themselves without fear.

What are the specific challenges of women at the different stage of their journey?

Keeping the challenges that all refugees experience and overcome on their journey to wherever they decide is the best place for them to find safety, women and children face even more difficulties. Many women and young girls have lost their husbands, brothers and fathers in the war, and/or have to make their way without them for the first time with children. Single mothers with babies who are still breast fed are not accustomed to or have cultural and religious problems against breast-feeding in public also have additional problems to deal with. A lot of refugee women are used to having safe spaces for conversation, exchange with women only, and that is also taken away from them when the host culture does not understand their needs. They tend to be less experienced with work than the men which also hinders them economically and in terms of creating livelihoods for their families.

What are the specific services you brought for women and children?
More Than Shelters have brought quick solutions to women in Northern Greece, in Jordan and also in Hamburg. As I said, a lot of women face the problem of having a safe place to interact with their children privately or in the presence of other mothers. Young girls also need private spaces at times as it is unfortunate that children in general are more likely to be abused or violated in unfamiliar, crowded areas. Our solutions are mainly based on the DOMO structures, tents with great adaptability that is to say that if the camps need a place for mothers to breastfeed, the DOMO is spacious enough to be “furnished” with whatever is needed, same goes for children’s play rooms, and classrooms. In Hamburg, we set up DOMOs to serve as “child-friendly” and “women-led” spaces; so the women of the camps or integration areas decide on what is needed in this space, which functions it should be able to fulfill. In Nepal, we set up what can be described as hostels for students to be able to attend school after severe floods hit and took away their education. It is vital to remember that children end up being forced to halt their studies and education due to the disasters, whether natural or man-made. Young girls already receive less education than young boys in some of the developing countries. In Jordan, however, our work was different.

Why women economic empowerment is important for women refugees and what are your plans on that?
Elaborating on what was said regarding our work in Jordan. We are currently in the process of training women and single mothers in up-cycling disposed-of material in order to create handicrafts, designs, accessories, decorations in order to create a sustainable business concept. Not only does this raise awareness regarding waste production and environmental difficulties, it also gives the women the option to learn new skills and apply them and work to generate independent income for themselves. We have artists coming in to help provide technical information and practical presentations. Aside from this particular project, we also are working on generating funding to create an Inclusive Business model and environment. This requires quite a bit of work and coordination with the local governments, as the legal problems regarding refugees being allowed to work are still present. Our work is also encouraging the women with entrepreneurial tendencies and potential to go after what they want and to help provide the basis needed to start something new, a new business, one that could then employ even more women. Workshops, training, and mentoring is all in the works to be able to communicate as much information, knowledge and tips from the already experienced women and people in general. This will increase overall living standards due to income generation, it will also empower younger girls and with each success story, each girl feels more drive and determination to fight for what she wants and what her future is to be like. In a culture such as the one in Jordan, one form of empowerment will affect several other aspects.

How can Empower Women support your work and work for refugees?
Our main challenge is to receive substantial funding and donations in order to allow us to carry through with our planned projects. Empower Women already provides a great chance for networking which is beneficial not only in terms of being linked to future funders, but also partners. Partners and individuals willing to help bring projects to life, to research with us, to participate and provide workshops even when needed. It will also aid in spreading More Than Shelters’ message across the world. 

Photographer & Videographer Credit: Meral Guzel

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  • veronica portugal
    Its really inspiring to see that kind of initiatives when the world is getting filled of racism and xenophobia. Its good to see that there are people going in the correct direction
  • Solika Akter
    this is really an admireable project . 
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