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Crossing Continents


Series focusing on foreign affairs issues


London, United Kingdom




Series focusing on foreign affairs issues




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


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


How a war has changed a Norwegian town

Kirkenes, in the far north-east of Norway, once thrived on its close ties with neighbouring Russia. All that changed after the invasion of Ukraine. Now it’s become home to Ukrainian refugees and a safe haven for some Russian journalists escaping President Putin’s media clampdown. For decades this area popularised the phrase “High North, Low Tension.” Close economic and cultural ties developed with brisk cross-border trade. Hundreds of Russians settled in the town. But now new cross-border restrictions have been imposed and co-operation has ended. The local economy has taken a significant hit and cross-border cultural groups no longer meet. However, despite this being a NATO member, the Norwegian government is keeping the border open. Russian fishing vessels still unload their catch in Kirkenes but are no longer allowed to undergo repairs. The Norwegians have stepped up checks on these Russian boats amid concern of a rise in Russian spying and potential sabotage. For Crossing Continents John Murphy travels to Norway’s Arctic to see how war has changed the town and to ask what’s next for this unique community. Producer: Alex Last Sound mix: Graham Puddifoot Production coordinator: Gemma Ashman Series editor: Penny Murphy


Missing in Syria

There are one hundred thousand missing Syrians, according to the UN, who’ve been detained or have disappeared since the beginning of the uprising in Syria twelve years ago and the civil war that followed. Most of their families have no idea where they are and whether they’re alive or dead. Many are paying thousands of dollars for information about them which almost always comes to nothing. Lina Sinjab reports from Turkey and Beirut where she’s been talking to Syrian refugees about the desperate measures they'll go to in their search for their missing relatives. Presenter: Lina Sinjab Producer : Caroline Bayley Editor: Penny Murphy Sound Engineer: Rod Farquhar


Surviving Greece's migrant boat disaster

In the early hours of 14th June, a heavily overcrowded, rusty fishing trawler carrying as many as 750 migrants capsized off the coast of Greece. The passengers - men, women and children from countries including Pakistan, Egypt and Syria - were fleeing conflict and poverty, hoping to start safer and more prosperous lives in Europe. After its engine broke down, the boat drifted for several hours while desperate passengers made distress calls and waited for rescue. Only 104 people survived the sinking. More than 600 may have drowned, making this one of the deadliest disasters in Europe’s ongoing migration crisis. For Crossing Continents, Nick Beake travels to Greece to meet survivors of the sinking, who are now living in a refugee camp outside Athens. He hears how they endured a four-day voyage, during which several passengers died due to a lack of food, water and ventilation on board. Brutal smugglers forced them to board the dangerous boat, and confiscated water bottles and life jackets to make room for extra passengers. Many of the survivors have accused the Greek coastguard of causing the sinking by attempting to tow the heavily overloaded vessel. Greek authorities have denied these claims. Nick meets a Greek activist who volunteers for an emergency hotline that received distress calls from passengers on the ship. She explains that the June 14th disaster is not the first time the Greek coastguard has come under scrutiny, and it has previously been accused of using aggressive and illegal tactics to deter migration. Presented by Nick Beake Producer: Viv Jones Studio mix: Graham Puddifoot Series Editor: Penny Murphy


Singing Morocco's New Identity

Gnawa music is a Moroccan spiritual musical tradition developed by descendants of enslaved people from Sub-Saharan Africa. It combines ritual poetry with traditional music and dance, and is traditionally only performed by men. But one female Moroccan artist, Asmâa Hamzaoui, has broken the mould. She's become an international star, who has even performed for Madonna on her birthday. Reporter Myriam Francois travels to Casablanca to meet Asmaa and her family, and follows her to the Essaouira Festival, the annual celebration of Gnawa culture. What does its ever-growing popularity tell us about the changing identity of a country that once saw itself primarily as part of the Arab world, but has now become more interested in its links to the rest of the African continent? Presented by Myriam Francois Produced by Tim Whewell Series editor Penny Murphy


Belize's Blue Bond

In 2020 Belize was broke. Again. This small, climate-vulnerable, Central American nation is home to the western hemisphere’s longest barrier reef. And it was about to default on a debt of over half a billion dollars. Enter an American NGO... The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is the world’s largest conservation charity. TNC made an offer to the government of Belize: it would help restructure the debt, if Belize would channel the savings made into its precious coastal resources. In 2021, the deal became reality – creditors were paid off, and investors found for the new, so-called ‘blue bond.’ Belize’s debt shrank by 12% overnight. A win-win, right? But as Linda Pressly finds on a trip to Belize, the ‘blue bond’ hasn’t been universally welcomed. There are concerns about an international NGO having influence in a poor nation, and arguments about which Belizean marine organisations have benefitted from the new investment. And there is one unresolved question: what does the ‘blue bond’ agreement mean for the potential future exploration of offshore oil in Belizean waters? Presented and produced by Linda Pressly Sound engineer: Neil Churchill Series Editor: Penny Murphy


Zimbabwe's worker exodus

Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans are fleeing their country, looking for work in the West, especially in the United Kingdom. Last year Zimbabwe was the third largest source of foreign workers for the UK, behind India and Nigeria, and ahead of the Philippines and Pakistan, which have much larger populations. A popular social media post reads: “the Zimbabwean dream is to leave Zimbabwe.” Many of those leaving their country are highly qualified. They’re taking jobs in the British care sector, where there is a huge shortage of workers. They send much of what they earn back to their families in Zimbabwe. For those back home it’s often the only way to survive in a country with hyper-inflation. Zimbabwe is about to go to the polls but few expect things to change. The economy is in dire straits and the opposition hasn’t been allowed to campaign freely. Some activists have been imprisoned or even killed. The ruling ZANU PF party, which has been in power since independence in 1980, shows little sign of losing control. Earlier this year the UK gave Zimbabwean teachers “Qualified Teacher” status, allowing them to work long-term in the UK. Zimbabwean parents fear their children’s teachers will be the next to leave. Zimbabwe’s latest skills exodus could break the country’s healthcare and education systems, which are already crumbling after decades of under-investment and corruption. Charlotte Ashton hears from Zimbabweans who’ve left, Zimbabweans who want to leave and Zimbabweans who say they can only dream of leaving. Presenter: Charlotte Ashton Producer: John Murphy Studio Mix by Rod Farquhar Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman Series Editor: Penny Murphy


When Wagner came home

Tens of thousands of Russian criminals – murderers, rapists, robbers – were recruited from prisons by the mercenary group, Wagner, to fight in Ukraine. Now, after six months on the battlefield, the survivors have returned home, with official pardons. Many served only a fraction of their original sentences. And now, they're officially treated as heroes - protected by a new law which criminalises discreditation of anyone who fights on the Russian side in the war. Already, some returnees are reported to have committed further serious crimes. One has confessed to the brutal axe-murder of his 85-year-old former landlady. In another case, an ex-convict believed to have served with Wagner has been charged with masterminding the killing of two children's entertainers, one of them a 19-year-old woman who was training to be a teacher. The murders in southern Russia provoked an outpouring of anger and grief, with thousands signing a petition demanding that the alleged ringleader - who denies any guilt - should get a life sentence if he is eventually convicted. But they know any punishment will probably be less severe, because the criminal records of former Wagner mercenaries have been wiped. They start their lives again from a clean slate, and if they re-offend, no previous convictions can be considered. Reporter Arseny Sokolov talks to the mother of the murdered entertainer, to campaigners for prison reform - and to an ex-convict who fought for Wagner - to investigate what threat the returned mercenaries pose in their home towns and villages - and to assess the damage "legal nihilism" is doing to Russian society. Producer: Tim Whewell Editor: Penny Murphy


Returning to Romania

Millions of people left Romania after it entered the EU in 2007. They were haemorrhaging doctors at such a rate they had to shut entire hospitals and losing so many builders they had to cancel major infrastructure projects. By 2015, nearly 20% of the population lived abroad. Now their government wants them to come home. They’ve doubled health care salaries, offered tax breaks to builders and dished out thousands of Euros in grants for returners who start up a business. And in 2023, with Romania projected to have one of the fastest growing economies in the EU, the migration tide could finally be turning. Dr Tessa Dunlop travels to Transylvania to meet Alina, who was persuaded to leave the UK by a grant that helped her start up a leather clothing business. Adrian, co-owner of an app design company, relishes the high tech salary he can earn and the relatively low living costs in Romania. Dan, a foetal medicine specialist left the UK after nearly a decade working for the NHS, hoping to improve Romania’s maternity wards. In some sectors, though, there are still shortages. Builder Ion can't find the Romanian talent he could easily recruit in Italy. Perhaps not enough has improved, yet, to tempt lower paid workers home. Producer: Phoebe Keane Editor: Penny Murphy


Botswana: Living with elephants

The battle to keep the peace between people and elephants in northern Botswana. The earth’s largest land mammal, the elephant, is an endangered species. Poaching, habitat loss and disease have decimated elephant populations. But not in Botswana, which has the world’s biggest population of elephants. In the north of the country, in the area around the remarkable Okavango Delta (the world’s largest inland delta), elephant numbers are growing and they outnumber people. This can pose serious problems for the human population, particularly local subsistence farmers. A crop raid by elephants can destroy a family’s annual food supply overnight. Elephants also pose a risk to life in their daily commute between their feeding grounds and their water sources. John Murphy travels to the top of the Okavango Delta, to see what efforts are being made to keep both people and elephants safe, and to persuade locals that these giant animals are an asset not a liability. He also explores threats from further afield to this green jewel in the desert, the Okavango Delta, which animals and people alike depend on. Presenter: John Murphy Producer: Charlotte Ashton Studio Mix: Rod Farquhar Editor: Penny Murphy


Ukraine: the men who don’t want to fight

For more than 15 months the Ukrainian armed forces have held out against the superior numbers of the Russian invasion force. But not every Ukrainian man subject to the draft is willing to fight. More than 6,000 Ukrainian men of military age have been granted protection in Romania since the beginning of the war, according to figures supplied by the Romanian immigration authority. Some left Ukraine in order to avoid the draft. Others served on the front before throwing down their weapons. Romania has a 600-kilometre border with Ukraine, which is difficult to cross. The choice is either a short swim across a fast-moving river or a long trek over snow-covered mountains. A number of those who’ve tried have died in the attempt. Nick Thorpe has been to the border region to meet Ukrainian men who don’t want to fight in the war. Presented by Nick Thorpe Producers Tim Mansel and Mircea Barbu Production coordinator Helena Warwick-Cross Music Caspar Thorpe Studio mix Neil Churchill Series editor Penny Murphy


Hard Times in the Big Easy

New Orleans is the murder capital of the United States: researchers into 2022’s crime figures say it suffered more homicides per capita than any other major city. Carjackings, armed robberies and other potentially lethal offences are also at sky high levels in ‘The Big Easy’ - a place better known for its happy mix of cuisine, carnival and colonial architecture. Crime plagues many American cities, and some of these problems are down to familiar causes, with economic disparity, poor education and the prevalence of guns all at play. However, other factors appear unique to New Orleans, such as high incarceration rates; entrenched racial inequality and chronic police understaffing. Many people believe that the chaos and mistrust of authority which followed Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in 2005 has brutalised the generation which grew up in its shadow. For Crossing Continents, the BBC’s Anna Adams meets those at the sharp end of this crisis in her adoptive city, and asks what went wrong. But as she also discovers, the spirit of the Big Easy can still be resilient, with some local people stepping up to do their failing authorities’ work for themselves in a variety of different social projects. To the backdrop of the city’s ever-present music, this is the story of a community that is literally under fire, and fighting for its life. Presenter Anna Adams Producer Mike Gallagher Sound mix Rod Farquhar Production coordinator Helena Warwick-Cross Series editor Penny Murphy (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)


Searching for my son

In the chaos following Turkey’s devastating earthquake in February, Omar was separated from his son Ahmed after both were pulled alive from the collapsed ruins of their home. Omar's wife and older son were killed. But he believes Ahmed could still be alive. Many children went missing in the aftermath of the earthquake. Some ended up in hospitals or childrens’ homes on the other side of the country and families have spent months trying to locate them. But for many of the estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees, searching for lost loved ones is even harder - there are language barriers, a lack of money and they often don't have official I.D cards. Omar has enlisted the help of Nadine, a fashion designer before the quake, whose now trying to reunite Syrian families. She and her team find both success and heartbreak. Emily Wither follows Omar, a Syrian refugee, as he searches for his son. Presenter: Emily Wither Producer: Phoebe Keane Producers in Turkey: Zeynep Bilginsoy, Musab Subuh Studio mix: Graham Puddifoot Production coordinator: Helena Warwick-Cross Editor: Penny Murphy (Omar pastes a poster of his son on a lamppost near his destroyed home. It reads: ‘Missing’. Credit: Musab Subuh)


Kenya's Free Money Experiment

Thousands of Kenyan villagers are being given free cash as part of a huge trial being run by an American non-profit, GiveDirectly. Why? Some aid organisations believe that simply giving people money is one of the most effective ways to tackle extreme poverty and boost development. After all, they argue, local people themselves know best how to use the funds to improve their lives. But does it work? Is it really a long term solution? In 2018, the BBC visited a Kenyan village whose residents received money at the start of the trial. Five years on, Mary Harper returns to see what’s changed. Photo: Woman frying fish in village in western Kenya (BBC) Reporter: Mary Harper Producer: Alex Last Studio Manager: Graham Puddifoot Series Editor: Penny Murphy Production Coordinator: Helena Warwick-Cross With special thanks to Fred Ooko


Laos: the most bombed country on earth

50 years after the last US bombs fell on Laos, they’re still killing and maiming. In an effort to stop the march of communism, between 1964 and 1973, America dropped over two million tonnes of ordnance on neutral Laos: on average, a planeload of bombs was released every eight minutes, 24 hours a day. This is more than was dropped on Germany and Japan in the entire Second World War. Laos, today a country of just 6 million people, remains the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita. Five decades after the war, these deadly items remain a persistent threat and daily reality for communities across Laos. More than 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO (unexploded ordnance, unexploded bombs, and explosive remnants of war) in Laos since the war ended in 1975, with people still killed and injured every year. Around half the victims are children. But UXO doesn’t just kill and maim, it renders agricultural land useless and prevents economic progress. Although Laos is rich in natural resources, its development has been crippled by the legacy of the war. Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent travels to Laos to tell its story 50 years on. Producer John Murphy (Photo: Clearing unexploded bombs in northern Laos. Credit: MAG / Bart Verweij)


Leaving Sri Lanka

Record numbers are fleeing the island in the wake of a brutal economic crisis – perhaps one in twenty five Sri Lankans left last year alone. Some 300,000 went for contracted positions, mostly in the Gulf. But hundreds of thousands of others took less official routes. Many of them get scammed, some even lose their lives, as illegal migrants in what looks like a web of corruption and organised crime. Ed Butler speaks to some of those who are involved in this industry, who’ve taken this perilous option, and asks why aren’t more Sri Lankans, and even the government, speaking out more loudly about what some see as a national tragedy? Produced and presented by Ed Butler Production coordinator Helena Warwick Cross Series editor Penny Murphy


Gran Chaco - Paraguay’s vanishing forest

The Gran Chaco Forest is Latin America’s second largest ecosystem. It is a mix of hot and arid scrublands, forests and wetlands, part of the River Plata basin, so large it extends into Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. Large parts of the forests have already been cleared to make way for farms. Now a new highway being driven through it is heralding further change. The so called Bi-oceanic Corridor will transport the produce of cattle ranchers and soya-bean farmers in Brazil and Paraguay across to ports on the west coast. Members of some indigenous communities like the Ayoreo see it as a further threat to their way of life. The new road is being cautiously welcomed by some members of the Mennonite Community, a Christian religious group who came to the Gran Chaco 100 years ago via Prussia, Russia and Canada and bought land from the government to farm. Will the impact of the road on the indigenous and Mennonite communities - and the environment - be worth the economic benefits? Jane Chambers travels across the Gran Chaco. Produced by Bob Howard. The Paraguay producer was Santi Carneri.


Vienna: getting housing right

In Britain we have have failed for decades to build enough houses with good design and make living in them affordable – whether rented or bought. All this affects millions, especially young people. One place which seems to have a far better record is Vienna. Rents are affordable, the housing is high quality, there’s a good social mix with new estates designed with everyone in mind. So how has the City achieved this? And with pressures like a growing right to buy ethos, how sustainable all this in the face of future challenges? While the great Social Democratic tradition that Vienna’s housing embodies seems to have faded or disappeared across much of Europe, here it seems to have thrived. Is Vienna’s housing dream a one-off, or can it be a place everywhere else can learn from? Reporter: Chris Bowlby Producer: Jim Frank


Iran Protests: Tales from the front line

Why did people take to the streets, risking arrest and a barrage of bullets? After protests turned violent and hundreds of people were killed, four Iranians tell the story of why they risked their lives. What has been happening in Iran to drive them out onto the streets to face bullets? ‘Agrin’ tells Phoebe Keane she’s tired of being objectified as a woman, and having no faith that the authorities will take sexual assault seriously when the police themselves are accused of raping prisoners. Mahsoud tells how he was shot during a protest but feared going to the hospital in case the authorities put him in jail. When plain clothed police loitered outside his family home, he decided to leave Iran. Still bleeding and with a metal pellet lodged in his ear impairing his hearing, he finally made it across the border to Iraq. ‘Nazy’ tells of being arrested by the morality police while walking to work and being shoved in a van as the heels on her shoes were too high. She started to protest every day and now walks through the streets with her hair blowing in the wind, an act of defiance. ‘Farah’ remembers a time in Iran when women could dance and sing in public and protests because she wants her daughter to live a life without fear. Presenter: Phoebe Keane Producers: Ed Butler, Ali Hamedani, Khosro Isfahani and Taraneh Stone Series editor: Penny Murphy