A tweet from Egypt’s third richest man went viral last week when the Coptic billionaire offered to purchase a large island from Greece or Italy to host “hundreds and thousands of refugees” fleeing the conflict in Syria.

Telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris, the chief executive of Orascom TMT, told both Agence France-Presse and Forbes magazine that he is serious about his proposition and convinced that it is feasible.

The Cairo businessman said such an island could cost between $10 million and $100 million, but emphasised: “The main thing is investment in infrastructure.” He said he would plan to build temporary shelters to house the refugees, and then employ them to build housing, schools, universities and hospitals.

Admitting there would be many challenges, including jurisdiction issues and customs regulations, Sawiris stressed that those who came would be treated as “human beings,” noting: “Now, they are being treated like cattle.”

The tycoon sent formal initiatives on his proposal to the Greek and Italian prime ministers this week. His plan is to name the project Aylan Island, in memory of the three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish shore on 2 September.