September 13th, 2015
11:03 AM ET

Telecom billionaire Naguib Sawiris on Syrian refugee crisis: "I cannot just sit–and just do nothing and pretend it's not my problem."

Please credit any usage to “CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS”

The following transcript is of an interview by Fareed Zakaria with Orascom Telecom Media and Technology CEO, Naguib Sawiris. They discussed the billionaire philanthropist’s idea to solve the Syrian refugee crisis and the inspiration for his proposed solution.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

Naguib Sawiris-One man who thinks he can solve Syria's refugee crisis

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Telecom CEO and billionaire philanthropist, Naguib Sawiris, on the inspiration behind his idea to solve the Syrian refugee crisis: “I actually must admit, it's the picture of Aylan that woke me up. It was a very touching picture. In addition to that, the way these pictures were coming out of Hungary, the way these refugees were being treated by the authorities there, and being, you know, beaten and put into the trains and buses, I mean it was just too much. This was the moment of what I said - I mean I cannot just sit like that and just do nothing, you know, and pretend it's not my problem…”

Sawiris explains his step-by-step proposed solution: “…it's not about just getting the island. –I'll tell you that the challenge for this idea is not just finding the island and buying the island. The challenge of this idea is - whether it's an island in Greece or in Italy, it falls under the jurisdiction of Italy or Greece. So, the first point is - I would like to have the consent of the prime minister of Italy or Greece to house and host these refugees in this island. Finding an island and buying the island is the second point. But I think the challenge here is really to get - because you can't just take people and put them on an island that you bought that falls under jurisdiction. They don't have visas. We need - a passport control agency. We need people to check them out. You need their data. You need customs. So 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. After that, the rest I can do. …Then I would build a small temporary marina. I would build temporary housing and temporary school and temporary hospital. And then we will use these people and provide them jobs to build a new city on the island, to build this island. Because this war is not going to end in weeks or in months. It may be years even.”

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN GPS HOST:  After many years of ignoring the ever growing tide of desperate refugees flowing out of Syria and the grea­ter Middle East, the world suddenly sat up and paid attention in recent days. The reason? The striking image of Aylan Kurdi, a two-year-old Syrian boy who died while trying to reach freedom. My next guest has a novel idea to help. He also has the means to do so. Now he wants to name that idea after the dead Syrian boy.

Aylan Island is Naguib Sawiris' dream. The Egyptian telecom billionaire, with a net worth of around $3 billion, has sent letters to the prime ministers of Greece and Italy asking them to sell him an island so he can house and employ 100,000 to 200,000 of the world's refugees. As Sawiris himself admitted on Twitter, it's a crazy idea. But he says if he gets his island, he can and will take care of all the rest. He joins me now. Naguib, thank you for joining us.

NAGUIB SAWIRIS, CEO, ORASCOM TELECOM MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY: Thank you very much.

ZAKARIA: When did you think of this? I mean this must have been something you had been thinking of even before this tragic case of Aylan.

SAWIRIS:  No, I actually must admit, it's the picture of Aylan that woke me up. It was a very touching picture. In addition to that, the way these pictures were coming out of Hungary, the way these refugees were being treated by the authorities there, and being, you know, beaten and put into the trains and buses, I mean it was just too much. This was the moment of what I said - I mean I cannot just sit like that and just do nothing, you know, and pretend it's not my problem, you know.

ZAKARIA: So explain your idea. You - let's say you get the island. What exactly would you do? How would it work?

SAWIRIS: Look, it's not about just getting the island. I mean I'll tell you that the challenge for this idea is not just finding the island and buying the island. The challenge of this idea is that I would - this - whether it's an island in Greece or in Italy, it falls under the jurisdiction of Italy or Greece. So the first point is we would like - I would like to have the consent of the prime minister of Italy or Greece to house and host these refugees in this island, you know.

Finding an island and buying the island is the second point. But I think the challenge here is really to get - because you can't just take people and put them on an island that you bought that falls under jurisdiction. They don't have visas. We need the - a passport control agency. We need people to check them out. You need their data. You need customs. So 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.

After that, the rest I can do. I mean it's very simple. Then I would - I would build a small temporary marina. I would build - I would build temporary housing and temporary school and temporary hospital, you know. And then we will use these people and provide them jobs to build a new city on the island, to build this island, you know. Because this war is not going to end in weeks or in months. It may be years even. So what do we do with these people meanwhile, you know? I mean, I was just - I'm here in Belgrade and I'm - I met the minister of interior today and he was telling me that his biggest fear is that the winter is coming, it's going to be snowing and how will they sustain this weather and everything? I mean, we need to move fast.

ZAKARIA: When you look at the people who are - who have fled Syria, what is striking is in the Middle East, the countries that have taken these people are often not the richest. Jordan has taken on, I think, over a million. Lebanon has taken a huge number. Turkey has taken 1.5 million. But Saudi Arabia has barely taken any. Your own country, Egypt, has barely taken any. I mean wouldn't it be fair to say some of those countries should do it? After all, there's a lot of land in Saudi Arabia. You don't need the island in Greece, you could - you could talk to the king of Saudi Arabia. He's got millions of square miles of land on which these people could build houses.

SAWIRIS: No, let me first defend Egypt, because Egypt is hosting 400,000 Syrian refugees.    But I think we could do more. But you are right when you mention Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or the Emirates. You know what, I guess they have their own reasons, you know, or the Qataris, instead of financing the wrong guys and this story, they should really be pitching in or trying to help these poor people, you know.

But there is one consensus, OK. Actually, the Iranians, the Saudis, the Egyptians, the whole world are united that the one that needs to be fought is ISIS. They are the main - they are the ones chopping heads, killing innocent people, kidnapping and ransoming and raping women in front of our eyes. And we are sitting there and watching, you know. So these countries should at least do something. With all respect to your president, Obama, I mean sending 300 trainees, people to train the Iraqi Army is not a solution for what I call the soldiers of the devil. These are people who are not just terrorists, they are criminals.

So what are we doing about that? That's the real problem. I mean, I think with Assad, one could come to a political compromise. But how can you come to a compromise with these killers, you know, and gangsters, you know?

ZAKARIA: Naguib Sawiris, pleasure to talk to you.

SAWIRIS: Thank you.

END INTERVIEW

 

 

 

 

 


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