A media-savvy real estate mogul hides thousands of dollars in cash around San Francisco. The stunt goes viral. Realising the power of news media, the mogul announces a year later a plan to create an entirely new country just for struggling refugees, calling it Refugee Nation.
Meet Jason Buzi, the entrepreneur behind the Hidden Cash sensation of 2014 and this year’s plan to give displaced citizens a new and safer home.
The global refugee crisis includes some 60 million people, most of whom hail from poor and violence-ridden nations.
Not all countries are welcoming of these refugees, and the few that allow entry don’t offer much in the way of improved living conditions. Even without the violence, poverty abounds.
Buzi, who grew up in Israel and is the grandson of European immigrants, says Refugee Nation is the obvious solution no one is talking about.
“The issue is not land,” Buzi tells Tech Insider. The world is littered with uninhabited islands that can easily be purchased for the right price. But empty space also means zero infrastructure, and any proposed solution that requires citizens to start from scratch is a poor solution.
In reality, Buzi explains, “the issue is sovereignty.”
The challenge, as he sees it, is convincing an existing nation to sell off a portion of its land so a new community can set up shop where important things like commerce and clean water already exist. He’s considering developing islands in the Caribbean, such as Dominica. The island is bigger than Singapore, but only has 72,000 people compared to Singapore’s 5.4 million.
“All it takes is one billionaire or a few billionaires or a government or an NGO with deep pockets to say ‘We want to make this happen,'” Buzi says. “And the only thing lacking is the political will.”
Jennifer Hyndman, Director of Refugee Studies at York University, has serious doubts.
She takes issue with a number of Buzi’s proposed ideas, including the master plan itself.
“Buzi’s outrage and proposal is admirable, as he wants to do something,” she tells Tech Insider. “But the idea of sequestering all the world’s refugees on a single island which does not yet have state status, or a government to provide protection for these refugees, is not viable or desirable.”
Among Hyndman’s objections:
- Creating a new state is hard work. Beyond requiring lots of money, the plan would need international support and consent. Without access to this, Hyndman says, it will not be included in economic, political, social, and other international institutions, trade, or diplomacy channels.
- Refugees are only united by their status as refugees. Hyndman is sceptical that diverse groups of refugees would get along in a single country. There would be serious language and cultural barriers.
- Islands are isolating. Unless you have a boat, she says, “with an island, one cannot leave.”
- Islands don’t make good homes. Research on people seeking asylum suggests little good comes from quarantine. Problems could include poor health care and lack of attention to human rights.
Buzi admits he doesn’t have all the answers. The plan is still in its infancy.
That’s why he says it’s critical a well-known philanthropist, like Angelina Jolie or Bill Clinton, signs on to the project. The idea is that, with more star power and international clout, a half-baked idea can mature into a fully-formed plan.
By 2020, Buzi hopes to finalise a proof-of-concept for Refugee Nation. Even if he can’t move all 60 million people at once, an incremental migration in the thousands might show the idea has legs.
“Maybe we start with 50,00 or 100,000 people on a small island,” he says. “And I want it to be multicultural, multi-racial, multi-religion.”
Like the mixed populations of New York and San Francisco, cohabitation among diverse groups is the key for prosperity in Buzi’s vision. “The whole premise of Refugee Nation is that we’re embracing people regardless of their race or nationality or religion,” he says. “The common denominator is that they don’t have a home, and they need one.”
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