Billionaire wants to give refugees a home

On Sept. 1, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris tweeted his plan to aid the refugees in Syria.

“Greece or Italy sell me an island,” tweeted Sawiris. “I’ll call it ‘Independence’ and host the migrants and provide jobs for them building their new country.”

Sawiris is the third-wealthiest man in Egypt with a net worth of $2.9 billion. He owns Orascom Telecom Media and Technology, a company that has investments in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and North Korea.

Sawiris’ offer is one of very few, as many countries are backing away from helping the Syrian refugees.

“We have the do-nothing U.S. presence,” said professional engineer Zane Kuseybi in an email interview with the Guilfordian. “(There is) no forward movement at (all), only death and destruction, all on the backs of the Syrian people.”

Neighboring countries of Syria as well as countries in Europe have been unable to take the influx of refugees, leaving thousands of people stranded trying to find a home.

Sawaris is accepting a diverse group of people from different backgrounds to come together to build a sort of utopian republic and for that republic to be independent.

“There are models of that (idea) over (in Palestine),” said Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies Peace and Conflict Studies Max Carter. “Just beginning something completely brand new (with a) vision of a utopia; there’s something of that already a foot, so I’m not surprised that there is this kind of vision.”

Raleigh Bailey, director emeritus of the University of North Carolina Greensboro Center for New North Carolinians, said in an email, “I can’t imagine quite how it could be pulled off. Would this island become part of Greece or Italy? Would it become part of the European Union? How would it be governed?”

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Sawiris said that he is willing to pay for an island and for safe boats to carry the refugees. He also plans to create a temporary port and marina, provide food and power and hire the refugees to construct a new city and community.

Sawiris said he plans to send formal letters to both the Greek and Italian prime ministers requesting the purchase of an island. He believes that there is a limit to how many refugees Europe can take in, and claims there is nothing either government could lose from his proposal.

“The end result of an island would be the creation of another refugee camp, which would be forgotton.” said Kuseybi. “The refugees are already fleeing camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan and near refugee camps in Libya and Egypt.”

Despite facing many critics, on Sept. 5 Sawiris tweeted again.

“I found a name for the Island —‘ILAN,’ the young Syrian child thrown on Turkish shore by the sea to remind us,” tweeted Sawiris. “Now I need to find the Island.”