An Egyptian billionaire wants to buy a Mediterranean island for refugees

A creative idea.
A creative idea.
Image: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi
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As Europe struggles to cope with an overwhelming migrant crisis, Egyptian telecommunications tycoon Naguib Sawiris as offered to buy an island on the Mediterranean to house the world’s refugees.

The billionaire said in a TV interview he would approach the governments of Greece and Italy with his proposal, and told the AFP his idea was feasible. “You have dozens of islands which are deserted and could accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees,” Sawiris said.

Instead of being treated like “cattle” as they are now, he said the refugees would be treated “like human beings.”

That said, Sawiris’s scheme must be taken with more than a pinch of salt—particularly his expectation that any island he buys will be granted “independence.” The billionaire businessman-politician is Egypt’s Donald Trump, with a similar propensity for publicity-seeking (paywall).

Critics have pointed out that if Sawiris genuinely intended to buy an island, there are plenty of them in the Mediterranean, currently for sale—there’s no need for him to call on Greece or Italy, he could simply go out and make the purchase. 

While Sawiris estimates an island off the coast of either country to cost between $10 million and $100 million, he says the bigger investment would be the infrastructure—including housing, schools, hospitals, and universities. Eventually, when things improve in the refugees’ homelands, they could return as they please.

This is not the first time an affluent businessman has wanted to take the refugee crisis in his own hands. Earlier this year, Silicon Valley real estate mogul Jason Buzi launched an initiative to create a separate country for the world’s refugees—a pluralist, capitalist democracy with a “strong work culture.”