Egyptian Billionaire Wants to Buy Greek Island for Refugees

Billionaire wants to buy refugees Greek island
Syrian and Afghan refugees stand on a beach moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos September 3. Egyptian telecoms billionaire, Naguib Sawiris, has said he wants to buy an island off the coast of Greece or Italy in order to house hundreds of migrants. Dimitris Michalakis/Reuters

An Egyptian telecoms billionaire has said he wants to buy an Italian or Greek island and transform it into a home for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria.

Naguib Sawiris, 61, tweeted on Tuesday: "Greece or Italy sell me an island, I'll call its independence and host the migrants and provide jobs for them building their new country." He added in a later tweet:

Crazy idea .. Maybe but at least temporary until they can return to their countries ??!!

— Naguib Sawiris (@NaguibSawiris) September 1, 2015

Sawiris was later interviewed on television and said that he would approach the Greek and Italian governments about his plan, according to AFP. "Of course it's feasible," he said, "You have dozens of islands which are deserted and could accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees."

Sawiris, the chief executive of Orascom TMT, which operates mobile telephone networks in a number of Middle Eastern and African countries and is the owner of an Egyptian television channel, added that an island could cost anything from $10 million to $100 million. Sawiris is estimated to be worth $2.9 billion, according to Forbes.

The billionaire envisaged building "temporary shelters to house the people" and providing housing, schools, universities and hospitals on the island. He criticized the current treatment of asylum seekers across Europe, arguing that they are being treated like "cattle."

"And if things improve, whoever wants to go back (to their homeland) goes back," said Sawiris, although he admitted that his plan could face challenges, including persuading the Greek and Italian governments to sell him an island in the first place.