Is 'refugee island' becoming a reality?

The Egyptian billionaire behind the plan to house refugees on an island says he has found two viable options. But first, he has to actually purchase the land and receive Greece’s permission to start the project.

Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters
A migrant makes the victory sign as he walks towards Germany at the border crossing with Austria in Freilassing, Germany September 16, 2015. Germany cut its train link with the Austrian city of Salzburg on Wednesday, shutting down the main route into its territory for tens of thousands of people caught in Europe's worst migration crisis in decades. (REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler)

An Egyptian billionaire says his dream for a “refugee island” is one step closer to reality.

Naguib Sawiris says he plans to negotiate with the owners of two private Greek islands that could work for the project.

The idea is to provide a safe haven for up to 200,000 refugees: a place where they can have permanent housing, find work, have access to food, and the freedom to go back home if they want.   

Sawris says at first there would be temporary shelters for refugees, but then they would be paid to build housing, schools, and hospitals.

Some critics have ridiculed the plan for being infeasible, but Sawiris is convinced it could work.

"All I need is the permission to put these people on this island. After that I don't need anything anymore from them. I'll pay them for the island, I'll provide the jobs, I'll take care of all the logistics. I know I can do that," he told CNN.

“The real challenge of the idea is that to have the authorities accept the fact that you will host immigrants there, and specifically Greece has a lot of islands that are for sale and they should offer me an island for sale, but mainly accept that we host these immigrants there.”

He was struck with the idea after seeing the devastating photo of a Syrian toddler named Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed ashore in Turkey.

Sawiris says he will name the place “Aylan Island,” but still needs to purchase the island and receive Greece’s permission to start the project.

He also says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the world's leading body helping refugees, approached him to negotiate a possible partnership.

Sawiris, who owns an Egyptian television channel, is one of the most famous businessmen in Egypt, with a net worth of about $3 billion. He is the chief executive of Orascom TMT, which operates mobile telephone networks in three different continents.

As hundreds of thousands of people flee war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, Europe is facing an unprecedented migrant and refugee crisis. Germany alone expects 800,000 migrants while the European Union is mulling over a plan to resettle 160,000.

The trek for many is extremely dangerous. According to Agence France Presse, just this year, over 2,300 people have died at sea while attempting to reach Europe.  

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.