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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder12. Site Selection, Planning and Shelter
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOrganization of Response
View the documentCriteria for Site Selection
View the documentSite Planning: General Considerations
View the documentSite Planning: Specific Infrastructure
View the documentShelter
View the documentReception and Transit Camps
View the documentPublic Buildings and Communal Facilities



Suitable and well-selected sites, soundly planned refugee settlements with adequate shelter and integrated, appropriate infrastructure are essential in the early stages of a refugee emergency as they are lifesaving and reduce suffering. Refugee settlement in emergencies may take the form of dispersed settlements, mass accommodation in existing shelters or organized camps. Initial decisions on location and layout have repercussions throughout the existence of a refugee settlement with long-term effects on protection and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.


To provide suitable sites and shelter to accommodate refugees in emergencies.

Principles of Response

· Use longer term planning principles, even when the refugee situation is expected to be only temporary;

· Decisions on site selection and camp planning are very difficult to reverse, therefore when in doubt seek technical support;

· Avoid high population density in settlements and in shelters;

· Avoid very large emergency settlements; refugee camps should normally be considered as a last resort;

· Involve refugees in all phases of settlement and shelter planning and construction;

· Use a bottom-up planning approach, beginning with the smallest social units, preserving traditional social arrangements and structures as far as possible;

· Develop a comprehensive master plan, with the settlement layout developed around sanitation and other services, providing room for expansion.


· Assess the suitability of the refugee site and ensure that it meets the basic criteria;

· Simultaneously assess the most immediate needs for emergency shelter and provide the necessary materials that cannot be met from locally available resources;

· Identify the most urgently required measures to improve site planning and layout, and implement these as soon as possible.