Sawiris in negotiations over Greek islands to host refugees
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris stated on Monday that he is currently in negotiations with the owners of two privately owned islands in Greece in order to host refugees.

According to a statement from the Naguib Sawiris Communications Office, shared on Sawiris’ Twitter account, the businessman will proceed with the purchase of the islands in question, provided that the current owners can get approval from the government of Greece to host the maximum number of refugees allowed by Greek law.

“We are seeking the [Greek] government’s consent to be able to take care of the administrative process of permitting entrance of refugees to the island, which will fall under Greek jurisdiction,” the statement reads.

Earlier this month, the wealthy businessman tweeted, “Greece or Italy sell me an island; I will call it independence and host the migrants and provide jobs for them building their new country.”

When the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy found dead on Turkish shores in an attempt to flee Syria, garnered worldwide media coverage, Sawiris tweeted that he had found a name for the island, but now needed to find the island.

The president of Orascom Telecom Egypt says he has received many donations and offers from individuals, in addition to numerous volunteers who are ready to make Aylan Island a reality.

“I have gotten around 10,000 emails. Many people said they would volunteer to come and help me build this city, I have two people saying they want to donate US$10 million and so on,” the business mogul stated in an interview with Newsweek.

In the same interview, Sawiris asserted that he would be doing the EU a favor by helping Greece financially and buying one of its uninhabited islands, but also conceded that the project would not survive without the green light from the government. 

In an article for daily newpaper Al-Akhbar, Sawiris wrote that it is time the EU faces the results of its faulty policies in the region. The article deals with some of the criticism directed towards his proposal and claims that 80 percent of the feedback he has received has been positive. 

The statement also mentioned that the UNHCR has expressed willingness to enter negotiations with the Egyptian tycoon to “discuss possible areas of negotiations.”

UNHCR Assistant Public Information Officer in Egypt Marwa Hashem told Mada Masr that the refugee agency has indeed approached the Egyptian billionaire and that the meeting will take place soon, though no agenda has yet been set.

Hashem clarifies that the “UNHCR works with the private sector worldwide and approaches humanitarian businessmen for the sake of mobilizing resources, raising awareness, advocacy and supporting livelihood of the refugees around the world.”

She gave the example of collaboration between UNHCR and Ikea on the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign that raised 10.8 million euros for the agency.

A similar proposal to Sawiris’ was made earlier this year by Israeli-American real estate businessman Jason Buzi who sought to create a “refugee nation” to host refugees so that they can begin a new life.

In an article for the UK-based Guardian discussing Buzi’s project, Alexander Betts, director of the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre, writes that such initiatives are not new. Betts argues that although the scale of the current refugee crisis calls for innovative solutions, a number of important questions remain. The most pertinent of these questions is whether refugees should be integrated into host societies or treated as a burden. 

Betts argues that “the idea is premised upon exclusion rather than inclusion. It implies that refugees should not be integrated within existing political communities but confined to separate communities.”

Sawiris’ project has so far attracted both praise and criticism. To his critics, on Monday, he tweeted that there are two types of critics, “one I respect, they criticize, but offer a better idea or solution and one that I don’t, that only criticizes.” 


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