Sawiris raw as deal for Greek islands for refugees falls flat
The Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris has attacked Greece’s failure to adopt his plan to provide island homes for Syrian refugees.
The 62-year-old businessman launched a scathing attack on Alexis Tsipras for ignoring his offers to purchase Greek islands which he says could house up to 100,000 Syrian refugees.
“It’s going to be the first time in my life that I put something to my mind and it doesn’t get done,” he said. “I felt that for someone who God had been so gracious to, I cannot just watch this misery and be independent. But the problem in life is you also learn that bureaucrats and politicians – many times they have no heart.”
Mr Sawiris, who is part of the powerful Orascom-owning family and was rated Egypt’s second richest man by Forbes last year, said that the Greek government had ignored his proposal to buy up to 10 private Greek islands, each of which could be used to house 20,000 or 30,000 people.
Mr Sawiris approached the Greek prime minister in 2015, outlining his plans to organise the refugees to build temporary communities on each island which would eventually be used as tourist attractions once the Syrian conflict was over.
Mr Sawiris planned to set up a joint stock company with US$100 million in capital which would receive public donations for the project and planned to name the first of his islands after Aylan Kurdi, the three-year- old Syrian boy whose drowned body was washed up on a Turkish beach. But 18 months after putting his plan forward, Mr Sawiris says he is still awaiting a response.
“I’m going to lash now against the Greek prime minister,” Mr Sawiris told reporters in Dubai this week. “Politicians, they sit there and they decide you can do this, you cannot do this. And we are here. So I consider that not a failure because I had only good intentions. I sincerely say that. I just wanted to feel good and not be indifferent. But that’s life. Maybe you will have to wait for some politician with a heart.”
The office of the prime minister of Greece was not immediately available for comment.
Mr Sawiris made headlines in 2015 when he suggested the plan. The billionaire said that he had drawn up a list of 23 private Greek islands, all of which were owned by investors willing to sell to him, and took it to Mr Tsipras as well as the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
However, after an initial meeting, Mr Sawiris says that the politicians ignored his offers.
Some 57,182 migrants and asylum seekers were living in Greece according to government statistics from last summer, with 9,140 resident in the eastern Aegean islands. Many are currently living in formal or makeshift camps where living conditions have been made even more difficult due to sub-zero temperatures.
Last week it was reported that three people died in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, raising concerns about the harsh winter conditions.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter
Published: February 2, 2017 04:00 AM