The huts are a pilot project for IKEA, Germany's Spiegel Online reported Thursday. Aid workers hope they can become an alternative to tents for the millions of people living in refugee camps around the world.
IKEA says the huts are much more durable than tents, which usually last six months to a year depending on conditions. Olivier Delarue of the United Nations Relief Agency said they also offer "emotional benefits like dignity and privacy."
Delarue said the camp in Kobe, Ethiopia, is a good testing ground because of the harsh conditions, which include temperatures soaring above 100 degrees and high winds.
"It's essential to test these structures in a raw environment to get an impression of their durability," he told Spiegel.
Camp residents have found the huts take a full day to assemble, far longer than the 4 hours IKEA says.
Ismael Abdullali Abdinoor, who lives in one of the IKEA huts, has become the unofficial foreman for assembly.
"It's a lot of work, but the new houses seem much more stable than the huts and tents that are used elsewhere in the camp," he said.
The huts cost $7,000 each to make by hand, which IKEA hopes to bring down to about $1,000. The company is also trying to make them easier to assemble and to work out other glitches.
While the project could be a boon to refugees, it is also helping IKEA burnish its image, Spiegel said. The company has been hit by revelations that its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, 87, joined a pro-Fascist group in Sweden in 1942, a move he later called his "greatest mistake."