Crossing Continents

Crossing Continents

United Kingdom

Series focusing on foreign affairs issues


Molenbeek, Through the Looking Glass  

After the terror attacks in Paris, the world's attention turned to an inner-city district of the Belgian capital, Brussels, where several of the attackers came from. Molenbeek has been notorious for many years as a breeding-ground for Islamist extremism - and the Belgian government vowed to "clean it up". But do the authorities really have any plan to prevent the radicalisation of young Belgians? Tim Whewell has been travelling back and forth to Brussels since the Paris attacks to talk to local people as they hold up a mirror to themselves and search for explanations - and attempt to have a dialogue with a sometimes dysfunctional state. Lode Desmet producing.

Brazil Versus Sleaze  

Brazil is in crisis. Confronted with a massive downturn in the economy, its currency has crashed, while its political class sinks in a quagmire of corruption allegations linked to the state oil company, Petrobras. In the northern state of Maranhao - dominated for decades by the powerful Sarney family - a new governor from the Communist Party of Brazil is attempting to bring a fresh broom to one of the country's most undeveloped states. Already he claims to have cut expenses by millions of Reals just by removing seafood and champagne from state banquet menus. But the malaise runs deep in Maranhao. In the small community of Bom Jardim, a 25-year-old mayor is under house arrest accused of skimming the education budget and running council business remotely using WhatsApp. And with the cancelling of a project to build a huge Petrobras refinery, Maranhao is feeling the economic pressure. Linda Pressly reports from one of Brazil's least known regions.

The Battered Champions of Aleppo  

A fuzzy team photo from the 1980s sends Tim Whewell on a journey to track down football players from a small town in northern Syria who were once the champions of Aleppo province. In the last four years of war their hometown, Mare'a, has become a war zone - bombed by the Assad regime, besieged by Islamic State, subject even to a mustard gas attack. And the civil war has torn through what was once a band of friends - some now pro-rebel, some pro-regime. They're scattered across Syria and beyond, some fighting near Mare'a, some in refugee camps abroad. What have they gone through since they won that cup? And do they think they can ever be reunited? Shabnam Grewal producing.

Saving India's Parsis  

India's Parsis are one of the subcontinent's most successful communities. But their future looks precarious because their numbers have fallen dramatically. Some Parsis believe the answer could be to accept converts, and re-write the rules on who's deemed a Parsi. Others are resistant to change. Now the Indian government has stepped in to fund fertility treatment for couples who dream of parenthood. For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly travels to Mumbai to meet them.

Cambodia: Trust Me, I'm not a Doctor  

The Cambodian government has recently announced a clampdown on unlicensed doctors. This comes after a mass infection of HIV in a rural village, blamed on an unlicensed doctor re-using syringes. The "doctor", recently convicted of manslaughter, has just begun a 25 year prison sentence. For millions of people, self-taught, unlicensed doctors are often their cheapest - and only - option if they fall ill. Cambodia has one of the world's lowest numbers of doctors per head of population, on a par with Afghanistan. For Crossing Continents, John Murphy travels outside the capital Phnom Penh to see whether the government clampdown is having an effect. He finds evidence that self-taught doctors are still operating in villages, without hindrance - and with plenty of local support. Producer Helen Grady.

Malaysia's Runaway Children  

The deaths of five school children in Malaysia have provoked an anguished debate about education and what it means to be Malay. The children ran away from their boarding school in Kelantan State and died of starvation in the jungle. They were afraid of harsh punishment from their teachers. Two girls survived eating grass and wild fruits but were found emaciated and close to death 47 days later. The children came from the Orang Asli community, one of the poorest and most marginalised in the country. For Crossing Continents, Lucy Ash travels to the remote region where the children came from and talks to their bereaved parents. Many families are now refusing to send their children to school and campaigners accuse the government of not doing enough to protect rights of the Orang Asli community. Jane Beresford producing.

Albania: Shadows of the Past  

Maria Margaronis explores the debris of Albania's painful past-the prison labour camps, concrete bunkers and secret police headquarters--as archives are unlocked and new monuments put up in an effort to redefine who Albanians are. The country's citizens are trying to come to terms with history and move on from Enver Hoxha's dictatorial regime, the pyramid schemes and the political and economic collapse that followed. Instead of moving on, though, many are moving out of the country altogether. Do their leaders' efforts represent real change, or are they just an attempt to plaster over the cracks and reinforce Albania's plan to enter the EU?

Greece: No Place to Die  

They say you can't take it with you but if you live in Greece how much money you have at the end of your life makes a big difference. Permanent plots in the country's packed cemeteries can cost as much as a small flat so most graves are rented for a three year period and once that time is up the dead are exhumed and their bones collapsed into a small box to be kept at the cemetery. Those relatives who can't afford the cost of the exhumation or the storage charge for the box of bones will have their loved one's remains thrown in a so called 'digestion' pit with countless others' where they are dissolved with chemicals. In the current economic climate and with continued capital controls, Greeks are struggling to pay for the burial costs and unclaimed bodies are piling up at mortuaries. But there are few cost effective alternatives because Greece happens to be one of the few EU countries without a crematorium - each time plans have been made to build one it has been blocked by the Greek Orthodox Church. Instead Greeks are forced to send their relatives' bodies to Bulgaria for cremation. For Crossing Continents, Chloe Hadjimatheou reports on the business of dying in Greece. Producer: David Edmonds.

The Drugs Mules of the Andes  

Peru is the world's largest producer of cocaine. A staggering one-third of it travels on foot, on the backs of young men like Daniel. He is 18, full of bravado, and claims he does this work so he will be able to go to university and take care of his family. Daniel is one of thousands known as 'mochileros' - backpackers, in Spanish - who hike their illicit cargo from the tropical valley where most of Peru's coca is produced, up to Andean towns, out towards the border with Brazil, and to clandestine airstrips. For Crossing Continents Linda Pressly meets the 'mochileros' who are mostly young men from isolated, peasant villages. They have grown up in coca-growing communities that suffered some of the worst atrocities of Peru's dirty war with Shining Path rebels in the 1990s. All of them do it for the money - payments of hundreds of dollars in a region where the incidence of poverty is more than twice the national average. It is a perilous occupation. Armed gangs, a re-emerging Shining Path, the military and police all conspire to stop or control the trade. Daniel says that on every trip he makes, three or four young men will die. Highland prisons are bursting with mochileros who were caught, but in many ways they are the lucky ones - others die on the trails, their bodies devoured by wild animals. The Drug Mules of the Andes tells the story of the 'mochileros', their families and the Peruvian authorities charged with interdiction.

Norway and Russia: An Arctic Friendship Under Threat  

In Norway, the sacking of a newspaper editor, allegedly after pressure from Russia, has caused a political storm over media freedom, and raised questions over what price the country should pay for good relations with its powerful eastern neighbour. Thomas Nilsen is a veteran environmental activist who edited a paper in the far north of Norway, in a region which has enjoyed a unique cross-border relationship with Russia. Now that's threatened by rising tension between Russia and NATO. And relations have been further strained by the flow of refugees, now coming through Russia into the far north of Norway. Tim Whewell reports on what it means for the Norwegian outpost of Kirkenes, where Norwegians and Russians work closely together in the oil and fishing business and where cooperation and friendship go back decades.

Paraguay's Schoolgirl Mothers  

In April, the case of a 10 year old girl who became pregnant after her step-father raped her became front-page news in Paraguay, and across Latin America. Abortion is legal in this small South American nation only if the mother's life is deemed to be in danger. In this case, the authorities ruled there was no threat to the girl, and the pregnancy continued. But this isn't a one-off example of children getting pregnant: more than 700 girls aged 14 and under gave birth in 2014. That's more or less two a day. The 10 year old's pregnancy spawned a series of demonstrations and huge debate: about abortion, sex education, and the failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute the perpetrators of the abuse of children. For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly meets some of the schoolgirl mothers, and explores the reasons why Paraguayan girls are especially vulnerable to abuse. Why are families, the state and the law failing to protect them?

Hodei - The Man Who Vanished  

The last time anyone saw Hodei Egiluz, a 23-year-old computer engineer from Spain, was on a night out in the Belgian port of Antwerp in October 2013. Hodei is one of roughly 10,000 people who disappear in Europe every year. But his case has sparked a remarkable response. Practically his entire home town in Spain got behind the Belgian police search in one way or another. The search for Hodei triggered a campaign which eventually drew in figures such as footballer Ronaldo and the prime minister of Spain. But two years on Hodei is still missing. For Crossing Continents, Neal Razzell retraces Hodei's last hours in Antwerp and tries to unravel the mystery surrounding his disappearance. Producer: Charlotte McDonald.

Losing Louisiana  

Ten years ago Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, leaving over 1800 people dead and causing billions of dollars of damage. It was dramatic and destructive - but Katrina has been described as 'like a cold suffered by a cancer patient'. The cancer is the erosion of the coastal wetlands of Southern Louisiana, a slow motion environmental disaster that has continued almost unabated since Katrina. Caused by the taming of the Mississippi and oil and gas exploration, a football field of coastal land washes away every hour, and with it the homes, places and livelihoods that have sustained the storied Cajun culture. James Fletcher travels to Bayou Lafourche and the town of Leeville to get to know one community facing the reality of losing their past and their future.

The Harragas of Algeria  

Why are so many young people leaving Algeria? Unlike Syria or Libya, Algeria is supposedly a beacon of stability in a troubled region and it enjoys vast wealth from its oil and gas resources. Yet it remains a major source of illegal migrants to Europe and thousands continue to risk their lives crossing the sea to get there. They are known as 'Harraga', derived from the verb to burn in Arabic because they burn their identity documents. President Bouteflika's right hand man has called the harraga phenomenon "a national tragedy". Lucy Ash meets some of those heading for Europe's Eldorado and those bereaved friends and families of harragas who have disappeared in the Mediterranean. John Murphy producing.

Cuba on the Move  

Will Grant takes a ride in Cuba to discover how people get around and whether the thaw in relations with the United States will make any difference to their lives. The country is known the world over for its classic cars, a consequence of the American trade embargo imposed after the revolution in 1959, when, as one motoring journalist quipped, 'the tail fin was still a recent innovation in automotive design'. There are a few collectibles but spare parts are almost impossible to come by and most vehicles are held together with sticky tape and glue. It is almost as if Cuba has been stuck in a time warp for half a century with around 60 thousand vintage cars now attempting to navigate the country's notoriously bad roads. Car ownership is still the dream for most people but the reality is a chaotic bus service, a bone shaking ride in a horse and cart or hitching a lift. How do people cope and will things change? Produced by Mark Savage.

China's Ketamine Fortress  

Celia Hatton goes undercover to The Fortress, the Chinese village at the centre of the world's illicit ketamine problem. She hears how China is a top maker and taker of the drug. Celia visits karaoke bars where ketamine is snorted regularly; she hears from those trying to wean themselves off their addiction; and hears from police who took part in a major raid on a village accused of producing vast quantities of illegal ketamine. A local farmer complains that his land and his crops have been destroyed by the drug gangs and Celia discovers how Chinese ketamine has led to the problem known as "Bristol bladder" back in the UK. John Murphy producing.

South Africa Unplugged  

South Africa is in crisis as the national electricity generator, Eskom, struggles to provide an adequate power supply and rolling blackouts hit the country on a regular basis. As Neal Razzell reports, there's now concern that jobs and growth are at risk from the power cuts, and the ruling ANC - which blames the problem on inheriting an apartheid-era network designed only for the white population - stands accused of complacency and incompetence. Michael Gallagher producing.

A Mediterranean Rescue  

In one of the largest operations of its kind, thousands of migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were pulled off cramped, unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean in June. Gabriel Gatehouse has had rare access to the operation. He follows two young men as they try to find a new home in Europe, from the moment they board a privately-funded search and rescue ship, to their attempts to evade the Italian police.

Peru's Wildlife for Sale  

The global trade in wildlife is worth an estimated US$20 billion a year. Peru is one of the most biodiverse nations on the planet. But its government estimates 400 species of fauna and flora are in danger of extinction - illicit trafficking is one of the biggest threats. The illegal wildlife trade supplies live birds and animals - macaws, parrots, monkeys, turtles - for both the local market and overseas collectors. It also commercialises body parts - the rare Andean bear, and the feathers of condors. So how is Peru attempting to protect its precious resources? For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly goes on operations with the wildlife police. Produced by John Murphy.

Georgia: Orthodoxy in the Classroom  

Natalia Antelava asks if the creeping influence of the Orthodox Church in Georgia's schools is turning them into a breeding ground for radical Christianity. Georgia's liberal politicians say only alignment with Europe and US will allow Georgia to overcome its post-Soviet past and survive as an independent nation. But in the way of Georgia's pro-Western course stands its Orthodox neighbour Russia and, increasingly, the country's own Orthodox Church. Natalia Antelava visits her old school in Tbilisi to see how the country's most conservative, anti-Western institution is influencing the next generation. Wesley Stephenson producing.

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