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Crossing Continents


Series focusing on foreign affairs issues


London, United Kingdom




Series focusing on foreign affairs issues



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A Slogan and a Land (Part 2)

In this second part of his journey from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel, reporter Tim Whewell continues his exploration of the physical and human reality behind the slogan “From the River to the Sea”, a phrase which creates intense controversy. In this podcast he descends from the high ridge of the West Bank hills to the Israeli Mediterranean coast at Herzlia, known for its beaches and high-tech industry – and then continues along the sea, to end his journey at the ruined ancient city of Caesarea. Along the way, on the West Bank, he encounters a Palestinian dry stone waller and an Israeli hairdresser – and then, crossing into Israel, he talks to Jewish Israelis including teachers, activists and a journalist – and to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Finally, he meets a group of young Israelis who have recently finished their military service. Some of them have been fighting in Gaza. What future do all these people hope for, in the 90 kilometres between the River and the Sea? Presenter/producer: Tim Whewell Sound mixing: Neil Churchill Production co-ordinator: Gemma Ashman Editor: Penny Murphy (Photo shows some of the people Tim meets in the two parts of the series. Clockwise from top left: Ben Levy, Israeli nature ranger; Sulieman Mleahat, Palestinian development worker; Susie Becher, Israeli political activist; Okayla Shehadi, retired Palestinian citizen of Israel.)


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A Slogan and a Land (Part 1)

Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas last year, the cry “From the River to the Sea” has been heard more and more as a pro-Palestinian slogan. But what river? What sea? And what exactly does the phrase mean? It’s the subject of intense controversy. In this two-part series, reporter Tim Whewell travels from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, across a tiny stretch of land that’s perhaps the most argued-over in the world. Along the way, he meets shepherds and teachers, soldiers and gardeners, artists and activists - Palestinians and Israelis of many different views and backgrounds. The shortest line from the River to the Sea doesn’t pass through Gaza. But everyone Tim meets on his journey across the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the River, and in Israel, is living in the shadow of the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel and the war that’s followed. The future of the often-beautiful, fast-changing, overcrowded region he crosses will be at the heart of any solution to the Middle East conflict. In this first programme, he goes from the Jordan, through the Israeli settlement of Argaman, the Palestinian herding community of al-Farisiyah and the Palestinian village of Duma, ending up at the Israeli settlement of Shilo. What do people in those places think now – and do they have any hope for the future? (In Part 2, Tim leaves the West Bank and travels through Israel.) Presenter/producer: Tim Whewell Sound mixing: Andy Fell and Neil Churchill Production co-ordinator: Gemma Ashman Editor: Penny Murphy (Photo: Some people Tim meets in the series. Clockwise from top left: Ben Levy, Israeli nature ranger; Sulieman Mleahat, Palestinian development worker; Susie Becher, Israeli political activist; Okayla Shehadi, retired Palestinian citizen of Israel.)


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The Caspian Crisis

The Caspian Sea is the largest inland body of water in the world. Bordered by Kazakhstan, Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan it spans 371,000 square kilometres and bridges Europe and Central Asia. It’s fed mainly by Russia’s Volga and Ural rivers and the sea is not only rich in oil and gas but is also home to numerous rare and endemic species, including the Caspian seal and 90% of the world’s remaining wild sturgeon. But the Caspian Sea is in crisis. Climate change and the damming of Russia’s rivers are causing the coastline to recede at an alarming rate. The sea’s levels have fallen by a metre in the last 4 years, a trend likely to increase. Recent studies have shown that the levels could drop between 9 and 18 metres by 2100. Last June Kazakh government officials declared a state of emergency over the Caspian. Iran has also raised the alarm with the UN. Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent travels to Kazakhstan for Crossing Continents to report from the shores of the Caspian Sea on what can be done to prevent an environmental disaster. Presented by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent Produced by Caroline Bayley Editor, Penny Murphy Sound Engineer, Rod Farquhar Production coordinator, Gemma Ashman Dombyra played by Yelnar Amanzhol


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Return of the Benin Bronzes

In 1897 British colonial forces attacked and looted the ancient Kingdom of Benin in what is now southern Nigeria. Thousands of precious objects were taken including stunning sculptures made of bronze, brass, ivory and terracotta. Some were decorative, some were sacred. Known collectively as the Benin Bronzes, they were famed for their craftsmanship and beauty. The majority ended up in museums around the world. But ever since Nigerians have been demanding their return. The Bronzes became symbols of the wider global campaign for restitution by former colonial powers. Now finally, some have been handed back. For Crossing Continents, Peter Macjob travels to Nigeria to track the return of the Bronzes, and find out what it means for Nigeria to have these lost treasures come home. Producer: Alex Last Studio mix: Neil Churchill Production coordinator: Gemma Ashman Editor: Penny Murphy


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Italy’s Mafia Whistleblower

Last year in Italy the biggest anti-mafia trial in 30 years reached a climax. On the stand were the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta: they are estimated to run 80 percent of Europe’s cocaine and to make more money in a year than McDonalds and Deutsche Bank put together. With access to mafioso-turned-collaborator Emanuele Mancuso, journalist Francisco Garcia looks at why Emanuele went against his powerful family. What has this trial meant for the 'Ndrangheta? And has it changed life for Calabrians today? Producer: Ant Adeane Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman Studio Manager: Neil Churchill Editor: Penny Murphy


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Kosovo: Euro or Bust

It's a quarter of a century since Kosovo emerged from a brutal war, one which pitted local ethnic Albanians against Serbs. Twenty-five years on, the government in Pristina is pressing ahead with reforms that could reinforce its separation from Serbia. They include banning the use of Serb dinars and curbing the import of things like Serb medicines. Pristina says the moves are needed to curb illegality and tax-evasion. But they’ve brought widespread complaints from local Serbs who feel victimised. Is the government justified in claiming there’s a rising risk of violence, or are the restrictions themselves making this more likely? Producer and presenter: Ed Butler Studio mix: Rod Farquhar Editor: Penny Murphy Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman


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Armenia's Lost Garden

For three decades Armenians ruled Karabakh – literally “Black Garden” – an unrecognised statelet inside neighbouring Azerbaijan. Many saw it as the cradle of their civilisation. But as Azerbaijan retook control last autumn, the entire population fled in just a few days. It was a historic catastrophe for Armenia. But the world barely noticed. How is Armenia coping with its loss? Can 100,000 refugees rebuild their lives? And will the cycle of hatred that caused the conflict ever be broken? Grigor Atanesian reports. Produced by Tim Whewell Studio mix: James Beard Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman Series Editor: Penny Murphy


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Reggaeton: The pride of Puerto Rico?

Reggaeton’s the soundtrack to Puerto Rico. The globally popular music reflects what’s going on in the cultural and political scene of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean Island. It started out as underground music in marginalised communities but was criticised for allegedly promoting violence and being too sexually explicit. Reggaeton has since been used as an anthem to overthrow a local governor and a way to criticise the island’s complex relationship with the United States. It’s also evolved from misogynist roots to reach new audiences in the LGBTQ community. Jane Chambers travels to Puerto Rico to meet the people and hear the music which is both maligned and revered. Presenter and Producer: Jane Chambers Field Producers: Hermes Ayala and Yondy Agosto Sound Mix: Neil Churchill Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman Editor: Penny Murphy


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Mexico - Coyotes and Kidnap

Thousands of people every day are on the move across Mexico towards the border with the US. But for migrants, this is one of the most perilous journeys in the world: land routes are dominated by powerful drug cartels and organised crime groups. In this episode of Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly hears terrifying stories of kidnap and extortion from those who have risked everything to enter the United States. The US/Mexico border has become the most important battleground for Americans in this year’s presidential election, but it seems no one can stop the men with guns who operate with impunity south of the border in Mexico. Producer/presenter: Linda Pressly Producer: Tim Mansel Producer in Mexico: Ulises Escamilla Sound: Neil Churchill Production Co-ordinator: Gemma Ashman Editor: Penny Murphy


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Secret Sisters. Political prisoners in Belarus

Belarus has huge numbers of political prisoners - around three times as many as in Russia, in a far smaller country. Almost industrial scale arrests began after huge, peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations swept the country in 2020 after Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in presidential elections. Mr Lukashenko has been in power for 30 years. Protestors said the result was a fraud, and that they’d been cheated of their vote. Almost four years on, the authorities are still making mass arrests. Many of those detained are women. The most prominent woman prisoner, Maria Kolesnikova, a professional flute player, has been incommunicado for over a year, with no word at all reaching her family or lawyers. Political prisoners are made to wear a yellow patch on their clothes. The women say they kept short of food and made to sew uniforms for the security forces, to clean the prison yard with rags and shovel snow. They speak of undergoing humiliating punishments such as standing in parade grounds under the sun for hours. Yet they also tell us of camaraderie and warmth in their tiny cells as they try to keep one other going. And women on the outside continue to take personal risks to help the prisoners by sending in food, warm clothes and letters. Presented by Monica Whitlock Producers Monica Whitlock and Albina Kovalyova Sound mix Neil Churchill Production coordinator: Gemma Ashman Editor: Penny Murphy


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American Mercenaries: Killing in Yemen

While recent attention has focused on the Houthi rebel movement in Yemen, BBC correspondent Nawal Al-Maghafi investigates a different, hidden aspect of the country’s long civil war. The conflict in Yemen began in 2014. It has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. In 2015, a coalition formed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen. Its stated aim was to return the elected government to power, and to fight terrorism. However, Nawal Al-Maghafi , from BBC Arabic Investigations has found evidence that the UAE has been funding a method of covert warfare in southern Yemen – assassinating those who have spoken out against the UAE’s operations in the country. Assassinations were initially carried out by a band of former American Special Forces operatives turned mercenaries, who were paid by the UAE. These extra-judicial killings, conducted in the name of counterterrorism, continue to this day. The UAE denies the allegations. Reporter: Nawal Al-Maghafi Producer: Alex Last Sound mix: Rod Farquhar Series Editor: Penny Murphy Production Co-ordinator: Gemma Ashman Executive Producer for BBC News Arabic: Monica Gansey


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Bulgaria: the people smugglers

Migration is high on the political agenda in countries across Europe, as the number of asylum seekers rises once more. As well as those who risk life and limb on flimsy boats in the Mediterranean, thousands more come via the Balkans, many of them through Turkey and across the border into Bulgaria. They don’t stay there long. Their preferred destinations are further west, Germany perhaps or Britain. And while the migrants’ stories have become well-known in recent years, we hear relatively little from the people who enable their journeys, the people smugglers. For Crossing Continents, Nick Thorpe has been to the north-west of Bulgaria, where it meets Serbia to the west and Romania across the Danube to the north. There he meets two men who worked as drivers for a smuggling organisation, shuttling migrants from Sofia, the capital, to the border. Presented by Nick Thorpe Produced by Tim Mansel


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The Struggle for Barbuda's Future

Campaigners on the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda are locked in a battle over its development by foreign investors who are building exclusive resorts for wealthy clients. The development of Barbuda into a high-end tourist destination is supported by the government of Antigua and Barbuda, who say it’s essential to create jobs and for the economic future of the island. But others argue that it will fundamentally change the island’s ecology and unique way of life. Caroline Bayley travels to Barbuda for Crossing Continents to speak to both sides in the heated debate over the island’s future. Photo: The pristine coastline on Barbuda's south coast, which has become the main focus for new luxury developments (BBC). Reporter: Caroline Bayley Producer: Alex Last Sound mix by Rod Farquhar Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman Series Editor: Penny Murphy


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Bones that speak

In 2016, the Philippines’ newly elected president, Rodrigo Duterte declared there was one, common enemy: the drugs trade. What followed was a bloodbath. Addicts, alleged traffickers – and so many who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – were gunned down in the streets by the security services. Often, the police claimed there had been a shoot-out and they had shot back in self-defence. The government put the number of people killed in the ‘war on drugs’ at 6,252 – that figure doesn’t include the thousands killed by unknown assailants. Now some of those victims are speaking from beyond the grave. Many were poor, and their families couldn’t afford a permanent resting place in a cemetery. Instead, they rented a burial spot. And, as those short leases have come up for eviction, a Catholic priest, Father Flavie Villanueva, offers families help to exhume and cremate the bodies. But before cremation, the remains are examined by one of only two forensic pathologists in the Philippines, Dr Raquel Fortun. Dr Fortun has assessed the skeletal remains of dozens of victims of the ‘war on drugs’. Her findings often contradict police narratives. For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly reports on these efforts to uncover the truth of what happened under President Duterte. But she also hears how, under a new president since 2022 - Ferdinand Marcos Jr - the killings on the streets have continued. Producer: Tim Mansel Presenter: Linda Pressly Studio mix by James Beard Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman Editor: Penny Murphy


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Bolivia’s giant fish intruder

Some people said it was created by Peruvian scientists, that it gorged on the blood of farm animals, that it was a monster. Many myths have grown up in Bolivia around the Paiche, one of the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish which is native to Amazonian rivers of Brazil and Peru and can grow up to four metres long. But after young fish were accidentally released from a Peruvian fish farm, the Paiche has arrived big time in Bolivian rivers. Every year, it reaches another 40 km of river and is eating all before it, especially smaller native fish stocks including even the deadly piranha. At the same time, the Paiche is proving a boon to many local fisherman who sell it to families and restaurants who are acquiring a taste for it in a land-locked country where meat has always been the favourite form of protein. This gives scientists and the authorities a dilemma. Do they try and control or even eradicate the Paiche from rivers famed for their biodiversity where new species are being identified all the time? Or let its spread continue unabated and provide a useful livelihood for fishermen and a healthy addition to the Bolivian diet? For Crossing Continents, Jane Chambers takes to the rivers of Bolivia Produced by Bob Howard Mixed by Rod Farquhar Production coordinator: Gemma Ashman Series editor: Penny Murphy


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Ukraine: Building back better

Rebuilding Ukraine after the destruction inflicted by Russia will be a gigantic task. Foreign donors have pledged billions of dollars. But they want reassurances that the money will be properly spent, in a country which still has high levels of corruption. For Crossing Continents Tim Whewell visits Bucha, near the capital Kyiv, site of some of the worst Russian atrocities, to see the beginning of reconstruction. A series of shocking reports by Ukrainian journalists into alleged misuse of rebuilding funds have forced local authorities in the area to explain themselves. But a new state reconstruction agency committed to transparency has now also started work in Bucha. And anti-corruption campaigners believe a new digital accounting and monitoring system they are developing in collaboration with the authorities will help turn Ukraine into a world beacon of openness. The government's slogan is "build back better." But what exactly does that mean? And can it be achieved? Produced and presented by Tim Whewell Studio Mix: Neil Churchill Production coordinator: Gemma Ashman Editor: Penny Murphy


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Ukraine: Fighting for Openness

As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers defend their country against Russia, many patriotic civilians are engaged in a struggle that's less risky, but that they believe is also vital. They’re battling for a fairer, less corrupt Ukraine, worthy of its heroes. For Crossing Continents, Tim Whewell follows one tireless citizens’ group in the city of Dnipro as they continue, even in wartime, to hold local authorities to account. They've been investigating a contract to repair housing damaged in a Russian attack. And they claim there's been corrupt profiteering. But Dnipro's powerful mayor dismisses the allegations - and deliberately insults those who question his priorities. What's the role of civil society when rockets are falling? And can Ukraine - one of the world's more corrupt countries - pursue reform while the war continues? Produced and presented by Tim Whewell Fixer in Ukraine: Rostyslav Kubik Mixed by Neil Churchill Production coordinator: Gemma Ashman Series Editor: Penny Murphy


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Cyprus: The battle over songbird slaughter

Cyprus is one of the main resting stops for songbirds as they migrate between Europe, Africa and the Middle East. For centuries, Cypriots trapped and ate a small number of migrating songbirds, as part of a subsistence diet. But over recent decades, the consumption of songbirds became a lucrative commercial business and the level of slaughter reached industrial levels . Millions of birds were killed each year as trappers employed new technologies to attract and capture birds. The methods used by the trappers are illegal under both Cypriot and EU law. In the last few years, both the Cypriot authorities and environmental groups have been fighting back, dramatically reducing the number of birds being trapped. But it remains a multi-million dollar illegal business which has increasingly drawn in organised criminal gangs. For Crossing Continents, Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent sees the trappers in action, and meets those determined to stop the mass killing of birds. Presenter: Antonia Bolingbroke Kent Producer: Alex Last Sound mix: Rod Farquhar Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman Series Editor: Penny Murphy


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Poland's Forest Frontier

Crossing Continents reports from Poland’s eastern frontier, where the Polish government has built a steel border wall - 186 kilometres long and five metres high, it’s meant to stop global migrants from Asia and Africa trying to cross from the Belarusian side. But the wall cuts straight through the Białowieza forest - the largest remaining stretch of primeval forest in Europe, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Grzegorz Sokol meets environmental scientists, activists and local villagers each with their point of view. Women like Kasia Mazurkiewicz-Bylok who treks into the forest with a rucksack of supplies to try to help migrants lost in the dense, trackless forest. Or Kat Nowak, a biologist trying to log the precise effects of the wall - from the plant species brought in with the gravel for the foundation, to the possible effects on wolf behaviour. The deep and dark forest of Białowieza seems to have lain undamaged by humans since it began to grow more than 12,000 years ago. But this remote part of Poland is in reality no stranger to upheaval. Caught in the fault lines of wars and revolution throughout the 20th century, the forest's villages have been razed more than once. Villagers have been murdered, forced to flee and become refugees themselves. As Grzegorz explores the forest, these hidden histories feel ever more present. Producer Monica Whitlock Editor Penny Murphy Production Coordinator Gemma Ashman


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Florida's political refugees

Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are escaping states they no longer feel comfortable in - they’re calling themselves ‘political refugees’. And the sunshine state of Florida is at the heart of this political sorting. How can one US state be both a safe haven for Americans fleeing their homes in the north and a dangerous threat to liberal families? From Miami to Chicago, Lucy Proctor traces the journeys of America’s homegrown refugees, meeting progressives and conservatives making their move. Through their crossing paths, she explores what is behind this new wave of domestic migration, and what it might mean for America’s future. Presenter: Lucy Proctor Producer: Ellie House Editor: Penny Murphy Studio Engineer: James Beard Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman