Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris poses for a photograph on a floating pontoon in front of the New Suez Canal, operated by the Suez Canal Authority, in Ismailia, Egypt, Aug. 6, 2015. 
Photo by Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg/Getty

Egyptian billionaire wants to buy an island for refugees

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris said he has identified two privately owned Greek islands that could be used to house migrants and refugees who have been fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Sawiris, the chairman of Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding, an Egypt-based joint stock company, suggested he would purchase an island to help alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in Europe. He said he would name it “Aylan Island,” in memory of the Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, who drowned earlier this month as he and his family attempted to reach Europe. Images of the toddler’s lifeless body on a Mediterranean beach triggered international outrage and calls for humanitarian intervention.

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In a Facebook post this week, the billionaire said he and the current owners would “go into negotiation” so they could “acquire the approval of the government of Greece to host the maximum number of refugees allowable according to the Greek laws.”

Swairis also said that he has been approached by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the world’s leading refugee agency, to discuss some areas of possible cooperation.

He first shared his idea to help the refuges with his Twitter followers on Sept. 1, when he tweeted: “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.”

Swairis wrote a follow-up saying: “Crazy idea. Maybe but at least temporary until they can return to their countries.”

The businessman’s proposal comes amid increasing pressure from human rights groups, many of which have been urging world powers to help the millions of displaced migrants and refugees who have been flooding European countries at unmanageable rates. 

More than four million Syrian refugees are already living in neighboring countries, according to the UNHCR. The vast majority of them live outside of formal camps, often in abject poverty.

The White House announced last week that the United States will welcome at least 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria in the next fiscal year. 

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