Egyptian billionaire proposes buying island to shelter Mideast refugees

An Egyptian billionaire thinks he has a solution for the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in the Middle East in search of a better life in Europe: their own island.

Telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris has offered to buy an island off Italy or Greece and develop it, to help the stream of people seeking refuge from violence and economic instability in Syria and other countries.

Sawiris— also a media mogul-- first suggested the initiative in a Twitter post, French wire service AFP reported.

"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," Sawiris wrote.

More than 340,000 migrants have arrived in Europe since the beginning of the year and at least 2,300 have lost their lives trying to escape by boat. Many are Syrians escaping their country's four-and-a-half year bloody war.

Sawiris told AFP he intends to approach the governments of Greece and Italy about his plan.

When asked about how the idea would work, Sawiris showed confidence.

“Of course it's feasible. You have dozens of islands which are deserted and could accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees."

An island off Greece or Italy could cost between $10 million and $100 million, Sawiris said, but emphasized “investment in infrastructure."

He suggested there would be "temporary shelters to house the people, then you start employing the people to build housing, schools, universities, hospitals."

"And if things improve, whoever wants to go back (to their homeland) goes back," Sawiris said.

The bold plan could face challenges, Sawiris admitted, including the likely difficulty of persuading Greece or Italy to sell an island, and determining jurisdiction and customs regulations.

Sawiris objects to the treatment of the thousands of displaced. He said those who chose to live on his island would be treated as "human beings."

"The way they are being treated now, they are being treated like cattle," he added.

The billionaire—who describes himself in his Twitter profile as a freedom fighter-- received thousands of retweets and replies to his plan and responded to naysayers.

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

Sawiris is the chief executive of Orascom TMT, which operates mobile phone networks in several  Middle Eastern and African countries and Korea . He also owns an Egyptian television channel and his family developed the popular El Gouna resort on Egypt's Red Sea coast.

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