Thousands of Bulgarian parents pulled their children out of school in a mass panic last October, fearing they would be abducted by social workers. Many more are protesting against a draft law they say puts 70 per cent of children at similar risk. Are they right to be scared? Or have rumours and fake news spread hysteria about the power of the state? Suddenly, campaigns to defend the “traditional family” are gathering strength in Bulgaria – and across eastern Europe. What’s behind them? And why do they treat one Western country – Norway – as the ultimate source of evil? Tim Whewell investigates.
Are lithium-powered electric vehicles as ‘green’ as we think they are? With the advent of electric cars, manufacturers tell us we’re racing towards a clean-energy future. It’s lithium that powers these vehicles. Most of the world’s stocks of this lightest of metals are found in brine deep beneath salt flats, high in the Andes. In Argentina, in Jujuy - the province with the highest percentage of indigenous households in the country - massive projects are underway. But in a super-dry region, with water the most precious resource, and lithium extraction demanding huge quantities of it, there’s anxiety - and outright opposition.
Presenter / producer: Linda Pressly
Producer in Argentina: Gert De Saedeleer
Editor: Bridget Harney
Why did so many people die in just one elderly care home in Madrid? After Covid-19 smashed its way across the globe, Spain - one of the worst-hit nations of Europe - is beginning to take stock of the devastation the virus has left in its wake. Most painful perhaps, will be an assessment of how the deadly contagion was able to rip through Spanish care homes at such speed, killing thousands of elderly people. In March 2020, the alarm was first sounded in a privately run institution, Monte Hermoso in Madrid. It is a story that has stayed with the BBC’s producer in Spain, Esperanza Escribano. She was in the capital when the reports of deaths at Monte Hermoso came to light. For Crossing Continents, she joins Linda Pressly, to piece together the story of what happened within the care home’s red brick walls.
Editor: Bridget Harney
(Photo: Isabel Costales and her husband Ramon Hernandez. Isabel died during the coronavirus pandemic in a care home in Madrid. Photo Credit: Paula Panera)
Ireland’s government is in crisis mode dealing with the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But another crisis in its housing provision has long haunted the country’s young people. Ireland has booming investment and lots of new jobs but people cannot find adequate and affordable housing. Anger about this, and fear of mass emigration by the young are issues with deep roots in Irish memory. And the housing crisis was a crucial factor in February’s Irish election result which shocked the main parties and saw big gains for the nationalists of Sinn Fein. For Crossing Continents, Chris Bowlby travels to the city of Cork in the southwest of the country. He traces the roots of the crisis in a crazy house buying boom a few years ago. And he hears how a lack of good, affordable housing is affecting everyone from students to young families to Ireland’s many younger migrants who hope to stay in Ireland, but have nowhere to call home.
Produced and Presented by Chris Bowlby
Editor: Bridget Harney
A much anticipated referendum in Chile on a new constitution has been postponed till the autumn amid safety concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. President Sebastian Piñera had agreed to the vote and a range of reforms following months of civil unrest. Since last autumn, the country has been experiencing a wave of protests with people on the streets angry at the level of inequality in the country. Amongst them thousands of university students, teachers and school children – who have been prepared to face tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets – in a bid to change the education system in Chile. They say a privileged few have access to all the best jobs and the rest are given a substandard schooling with leaky roofs in winter, boiling hot classrooms in summer and inadequate teaching. For Crossing Continents, Jane Chambers spent time with the protestors calling for a fairer education for all.
Presented and produced by Jane Chambers. Editor, Bridget Harney
California is one of the wealthiest states in America yet it has the largest population of homeless people – more than 151,000 - in the US. In the Silicon Valley many find shelter on the bus route 22 which runs an endless loop from Palo Alto to the Valley’s biggest city, San Jose. Along the way it passes some of the world’s biggest tech giants: Google, Apple, Hewlett-Packart and Facebook. It is the Valley’s only all night bus and many of its night-time passengers ride it to keep warm and sleep. But now the state is in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic the overnight service has been suspended. Earlier this year, Sarah Svoboda took a ride on the bus, known to many as Motel 22, to hear the stories of its travellers.
Reporter/producer: Sarah Svoboda
Editor: Bridget Harney
Romania's forests are the Amazon of Europe - with large wilderness areas under constant pressure from loggers. For years, corrupt authorities turned a blind eye to illegal felling. But now a series of killings in the woods has intensified demands across the continent to end the destruction. Six rangers - who defend forests from illegal cutting – have been killed in as many years. Two died in the space of just a few weeks late last year. The latest victim, Liviu Pop, father of three young girls, was shot as he confronted men he thought were stealing timber. But the men weren’t arrested. They say the ranger shot himself. And in the remote region of Maramures, where many people are involved in logging, that version is widely believed. Locals are afraid to talk about what happened. Is the lucrative logging business protected by powerful interests who turn a blind eye to murder? And are rangers sometimes complicit in the rape of the forest? For Crossing Continents, Tim Whewell tries to find out exactly how a young man employed to protect nature met his death. And he asks how Romania can save its wilderness when more than half the trees cut down are felled illegally?
Reporter: Tim Whewell
Editor: Bridget Harney
Saying no to dating is part of a growing ultraconservative social movement in Indonesia being spread through Instagram and WhatsApp. “When I look at couples, I see my old self, how I used to be affectionate in public, holding hands, hugging,” says 23-year-old Yati, “and now I think that’s disgusting.” When Yati broke up with her ex, she didn’t just swear off dating; she joined Indonesia’s anti-dating movement - Indonesia Without Dating. Its leaders say dating is expensive, gets in the way of study, and - most importantly - is against religious teaching. For Crossing Continents, Simon Maybin discovers it is part of a wider youth-led surge in conservative Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. Opponents see the phenomenon as a backwards step for women and a threat to Indonesia’s religious pluralism.
Presenter: Simon Maybin
Producer: Josephine Casserly
Editor: Bridget Harney
Music at the end of the programme was Tubuhku Otoritasku by Tika and The Dissidents.
Growing numbers of tourists are travelling to the Peruvian Amazon to drink ayahuasca, a traditional plant medicine said to bring about a higher state of consciousness. Foreigners come looking for spiritual enlightenment or help with mental health problems like trauma, depression, and addiction.
But not everyone is happy about Peru’s booming ayahuasca tourism industry. A group of indigenous healers are fighting back against what they see as the exploitation and appropriation of their cultural heritage by foreigners - who run most of the ayahuasca retreats popular with tourists. This coming together of cultures has thrown up another serious problem too: vulnerable women being sexually abused while under the influence of charismatic healers and this powerful psychedelic.
Reporter: Simon Maybin
Producer: Josephine Casserly
Editor: Bridget Harney
If you would like information and support with sexual abuse, details of relevant organisations are available at bbc.co.uk/actionline, or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 0800 077 077.
Ninety year old Galina is one of the last witnesses to the wild natural world that preceded the Chernobyl zone in southern Belarus. 'We lived with wolves' she says 'and moose, and elk and wild boars.' Soviet development destroyed that ecosystem. Forests and marshland were tamed and laid to farmland and industrial use. But when the Chernobyl reactor exploded in 1986, the human population was evacuated; their villages were buried beneath the earth as though they had never existed. A generation on, it seems that the animals Galina knew are returning. But how are they are affected by their radioactive environment? And what can we infer about the state of the land? Monica Whitlock visits the strange new wilderness emerging in the heart of Europe.
Produced and Presented by Monica Whitlock
Editor, Bridget Harney
Fatmata, Jamilatu and Alimamy all see themselves as failures. They’re young Sierra Leoneans who risked everything for the sake of a better life in Europe. Along the way, they were imprisoned and enslaved. They saw friends die. Eventually, they gave up. Now, they’re home again - facing the devastating consequences of what they did to their families before they left, actions that have left them ostracised by their nearest and dearest. Who will help them to survive back home? Can they rebuild their lives, and achieve any reconciliation with their parents? And if they can’t, will they be tempted to set off again, to seek their fortunes abroad?
Produced and presented by Tim Whewell
Editor, Bridget Harney
Iceland's glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate, with scientists predicting that they could all be gone 200 years from now.
How is this affecting the lives of local people, and the identity of a nation that has ice in its name?
Maria Margaronis talks to Icelandic farmers and fishermen, scientists and environmental activists about their (sometimes surprising) responses to climate change, and asks why it’s so difficult even for those who see its effects from their windows every day to take in what it means.
Producer: Richard Fenton-Smith
Editor: Bridget Harney
How do you achieve net-zero carbon emissions in just fifteen years? In Finland, a fisherman-turned-climate scientist believes he has part of the answer: re-wilding the country’s peat fields. Gabriel Gatehouse travels to the country's frozen north to meet Tero Mustonen, as he battles lobbyists and vested interests in government and the peat industry, in a race to mitigate the consequences of climate change. Michael Gallagher producing.
Editor, Bridget Harney.
Life in Lebanon is a daily battle to beat the power cuts caused by the country's chronic electricity shortage. If you live in a block of flats, you have to time when you go in and out to avoid getting trapped in the lift. Food goes bad because fridges don't work, families must often choose between air-conditioning and watching TV, and those on life-support machines live in constant fear of a switch-off.
But if it's hell for citizens, it's heaven for operators of illegal private generators who profit by filling the gap left by the failures of the national grid. Some are former warlords who led militias in Lebanon's civil war. They're given an unofficial licence to operate, often in return for favours to the authorities in Lebanon's chaotic and often corrupt sectarian system.
Now a huge protest movement is demanding change in Lebanon - and a constant power supply is one of the demonstrators' main demands. They want to break the power of the "fuel mafia" that imports diesel for the generators and has close links to the country's leading politicians. For them, the fight for light is a fight against corruption. But can Lebanon's feeble state ever manage to turn all the lights on?
Reporter: Tim Whewell
Producer: Anna Meisel
There’s a new climate of fear in Sri Lanka. This time it’s the Muslim community who are fearful of the future. The Easter bomb attacks in Sri Lanka - targeting churches and international hotels - horrified the island. It’s suffered civil war - between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils - but never known jihadi violence. But the attacks also intensified a creeping campaign by the Sinhala Buddhist majority against the Muslim community - with Muslims murdered, their businesses burned or boycotted. Jill McGivering investigates the growing climate of fear now driving many Muslims to emigrate and casting a shadow over those left behind. Caroline Finnigan producing.
Raed Fares, founder of Syria's legendary Radio Fresh FM, was mowed down by unknown gunmen as he left his studios in rebel-held Idlib in November 2018. The death of the man who fought hatred with humour and laughed in the faces of President Assad, ISIS and al-Qaeda, sent shockwaves way beyond his troubled homeland. When ordered by Islamist extremists to stop broadcasting music he had replied with bird song and clucking chickens. On being told to take his female presenters off air, he put their voices through software to make them sound like men. In tribute to its founder, Raed Fares's radio station has refused to die with him. One year on from his killing it continues to broadcast the comedy programmes he loved, as Assad's troops close in and bombs fall around it.
Presenter: Mike Thomson
Producer: Joe Kent
Domestic abuse in Russia is endemic with hundreds maybe thousands of women dying at the hands of their partners every year. Despite this a controversial law was passed in 2017, which scrapped prison sentences for first-time abusers. Beatings that do not cause broken bones or concussion are now treated as administrative offences rather than crimes. As one activist puts it: “the punishment for beating your wife now feels like paying a parking ticket.”
But Russian society is waking up to the crisis. The case of three girls - the Khachaturyan sisters - who face long prison sentences for murdering their tyrannical father, has sparked mass protests. More than 300,000 people have signed an online petition urging prosecutors to drop the murder charges. The girls’ mother tells reporter Lucy Ash that her daughters were acting in self-defence against a man who had abused them physically, emotionally and sexually for years.
Lucy also meets the mother of a woman stabbed to death by her husband who was discovered in her blood soaked bed by her seven year old son. In both cases, the frightened women had appealed to the police but to no avail. These tragedies might have been averted if only the authorities had taken earlier warnings seriously.
In Moscow, Lucy talks to activists who are fighting back by supporting victims, pushing for legal reforms and drawing attention to the cause through art, video games and social media. And she meets a lone feminist MP in the Russian Duma who is trying to bring in restraining orders for violent husbands, boyfriends and family members. Today Russia has no such laws and domestic violence is not a standalone offence in either the criminal or the civil code.
(Image: This woman asks whether silence is really golden – more Russian women are speaking out against domestic violence. Credit: Sergei Konkov\TASS via Getty Images)
Every August tens of thousands of Kurdish migrant workers, including children, toil long hours for a pittance in the mountains of northern Turkey picking hazelnuts for the spreads and chocolate bars the world adores. Turkey provides 70% of all hazelnut supplies – and the biggest buyer is Ferrero, maker of Nutella and Kinder Bueno. The confectionery giant says it’s committed to ethical sourcing, and aiming for its hazelnuts to be 100% traceable next year. But how is that possible in Turkey, with its half a million tiny family orchards, where child labour is rife? Tim Whewell investigates Ferrero’s complex supply chain and finds that while hazelnuts are celebrated in Turkish culture and song, it’s a sector where workers and farmers feel increasingly unhappy and reform is very hard to achieve.
Precipitous mountain roads, specially modified bikes, and deadly consequences. Simon Maybin spends time with the young men who race down the steep roads of Colombia’s second city Medellin. Marlon is 16 and he’s a gravitoso - a gravity biker. He hooks onto the back of lorries or buses climbing the precipitous roads to reach high points around the city. Then, he lets gravity do its thing and - without any safety gear - hurtles back down the roads, trying to dodge the traffic. This year, two of his friends have died gravity biking and Marlon has had a near-fatal accident. But he’s not quitting. So what drives young men like him to take their lives into their own hands? And what’s being done to stop more deaths? Produced and presented by Simon Maybin.
Marawi in the southern Philippines is a ghost town. In 2017, it was taken under siege for five months by supporters of Islamic State who wanted to establish a caliphate in the predominantly Muslim city. After a fierce and prolonged battle, the Philippine army regained control – but Marawi was left in ruins. Two years on, reconstruction has barely begun and over 100,000 people are yet to return home.
Philippines Correspondent Howard Johnson tells the story of Marawi from the siege to the present day, through the eyes of two of its residents: a Muslim who risked his life to save his community and a Catholic priest who was held hostage by extremists.
Produced by Josephine Casserly.
Image: Grand Mosque pockmarked by bullet holes and artillery fire in the Most Affected Area (MAA) or Ground Zero of the siege of Marawi
Credit: Howard Johnson/BBC
China’s New Silk Road reaches across all parts of the globe; building roads, bridges and towering cities where before there were none. In Kazakhstan, China’s neighbour to the west, this vast project has created a port. But there’s no water there, just desert… and trains running all the way from China through to Europe and the Middle East. Meeting the hundreds of shoppers and traders, it’s astonishing to think that just a few years ago this border was a closed military zone - the frontier between two giant communist states. But turn the clock back further and we discover this part of Central Asia has always been closely tied to China, in languages, culture and contested history. For Crossing Continents, Rose Kudabayeva returns to her home country Kazakhstan, to meet people living along the New Silk Road and record how their world is changing.
Produced by Monica Whitlock
A BlokMedia production
Everybody in Romania knows someone who has died in a road accident. The country has the highest road death rate in the European Union – twice the EU average and more than three times that in the UK. A young businessman, Stefan Mandachi, has built a metre long stretch of motorway near his home in the rural north-east of the country, as a visual protest against political inaction and corruption. For Crossing Continents, Tessa Dunlop travels to one of Romania’s poorest regions, Moldova, to meet this new champion of road safety, and the families who have paid the highest price for the country’s poor transport networks.
Producer, John Murphy.
Who will shape the future of the hurricane-hit, tropical isle of Barbuda? In 2017, category-5 hurricane Irma devastated much of Barbuda's 'paradise' landscape, and its infrastructure. The national government – based on the larger, neighbouring island of Antigua – evacuated the population of some 1800 people. But within days, although the people weren’t allowed to return, bulldozers were clearing ancient forest to build an international airport. Critics called this another case of, 'disaster capitalism' – governments and business taking advantage of catastrophe to make a profit.
Barbuda has long been viewed as ripe for more tourism – Hollywood actor Robert De Niro is part of a commercial enterprise working on the opening of an exclusive resort. One of the obstacles to widespread development has been the island’s unique system of tenure – all land has been held in common since the emancipation of Barbuda’s slave population in the 19th century. But last year the government repealed the law guaranteeing those communal rights, partly to attract investment to the island. Meanwhile, although the hurricane season began on June 1st, families are still living in tents.
With the main opportunity to earn revenue coming from tourism, the national government is thoroughly irked by Barbudans' resistance to profit from top-dollar visitors. It argues that projects can be environmentally-friendly. But in the wake of Irma, the impact of climate change hangs heavily on Barbuda. How can this pristine island preserve its future and still develop the economy?
Presenter / producer: Linda Pressly
An icon of Italian design; a centrepiece of a community; a tragedy waiting to happen? When the Morandi bridge opened in 1967, it was one of the longest concrete bridges in the world, connecting the port of Genoa with the rest of Italy and Italy with northern Europe. Built during the post-war economic boom, it was the centrepiece of Italy’s plans to modernise its roads and was a proud symbol of the country’s engineering and architectural expertise. But all that came to a tragic end in August last year when a section of the bridge collapsed killing 43 people and leaving 600 people without a home. Helen Grady speaks to people whose lives have been touched by the bridge from the moment it was built to the moment it collapsed. And she asks how such a vital piece of infrastructure, carrying thousands of cars and lorries every day, could be allowed to fail.
Producer Alice Gioia
Translations by Rachel Johnson, Alice Gioia and Helen Grady
Shaun Mason (Davide Capello)
Gemma Ashman (Mimma Certo)
Greg Jones (Emmanuel Diaz)
Neil Koenig (Remo Calzona)
Jim Frank (Alessandoro Campora)
Jonathan Griffin (Carmelo Gentile)
Will Kirk (Danilo Toninelli)
Andrew Smith (Paolo d'Ovidio)
A small town goes on life-support after its lone hospital closes. The story of Jamestown, Tennessee, recorded in the emotional hours and days after its 85-bed facility shut. Rural hospitals are closing across the United States, leaving patients dangerously exposed. Can Jamestown buck the trend and reopen?
Produced and presented by Neal Razzell.
When Azeteng, a young man from rural Ghana, heard stories on the radio of West African migrants dying on their way to Europe, he felt compelled to act. He took what little savings he had and bought reading glasses with a hidden camera – his “secret spectacles”. Then he put himself in the hands of people smugglers and travelled 3,000 miles on the desert migrant trail north, aiming to document the crimes of the traffickers. Along the way he saw extortion, slavery, and death in the vast stretches of the Sahara. In this edition of Crossing Continents we tell the story of his journey – a journey that thousands of young Africans like him attempt each year. Reporter, Joel Gunter.
Producer, Josephine Casserly.
(Photo: Azeteng's secret spectacles. Credit: Charlie Northcott/BBC)
In 2009, Mennonite women in a far-flung Bolivian colony reported mass rape. Now leaders of this insular Christian community with its roots in Europe are campaigning to free the convicted men. More than 100 women and children were attacked in the colony of Manitoba, and their courage in telling their stories secured penalties of 25 years for the rapists. But within Mennonite circles, doubts continue to be aired about the imprisonment of the men. They too protest their innocence, claiming their initial confessions in Manitoba were forced under threat of torture. The culture of abuse in the old colonies – physical and sexual – has often been commented on. And, as Linda Pressly reports, it’s partly this that gave the impetus for the foundation of one of Bolivia’s newest Mennonite communities. Hacienda Verde has been hacked out of virgin forest, and is home to 45 families. These are people who were excommunicated in their old colony homes, often because they rejected the harsh rules of conservative Mennonites – rules that govern every facet of life, from the clothes and hairstyles that are allowed, to the rejection of any kind of technology.
Presenter / producer: Linda Pressly
(Photo: Bolivia Mennonite colony, Belice, Girl at school. Photo Credit: @jordibusque)
The dangers of flying in the great wilderness of the Brazilian rainforest. When a light aircraft carrying two families from a local Indian tribe disappeared over the Amazon in December, relatives scoured the rainforest for weeks until hunger and sickness forced them to give up. The Brazilian authorities ignored appeals for an official ground search – just as they’ve ignored appeals over many years to regulate local flights in the Amazon. Without air traffic control, pilots must fly clandestinely – making already-hazardous travel between the tiny landing strips even more dangerous. Now, Brazil has a new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has spoken out against the communal rights of indigenous people – and, as Tim Whewell reports, tribal leaders fear the failure to find the missing plane may be a sign of growing official indifference to their needs. Producer in Brazil, Jessica Cruz.
(Image: Before the tragedy - Jeziel Barbosa de Moura, pilot of the vanished plane, minutes before he took off on the doomed flight. Credit: Family archive)
How does a lonely, Spanish shepherd find love when single women have left for the city? Antonio Cerrada lives north of Madrid, in the heart of what’s been nicknamed the, ‘Lapland of Spain’ because its population density is so low. With only a handful of families left in his village, and people continuing to leave for the cities, Antonio struggled to find a partner. Then Maria Carvajal arrived. She came in a bus full of single women – a ‘caravana’ - to attend an organised party with men like Antonio.
The Caravans of Women - or Caravans of Love as they are known - began as a response to Spain’s epic story of rural depopulation. More than half the country is at risk, and in nearly 600 municipalities there isn’t one resident under the age of 10. But as Linda Pressly finds out, there are many initiatives now to reverse the decline of the Spanish countryside, including a movement of young people – the ‘neo-rurales’ – who have begun to occupy abandoned villages.
Presenter and producer: Linda Pressly
Producer in Spain: Esperanza Escribano
(Image: Antonio Cerrada, a shepherd who found love. Credit: BBC, Esperanza Escribano)
Thousands of Bangladeshi addicts are hooked on Yaba - a mix of methamphetamine and caffeine. It's a powerful drug that gives big bangs for small bucks. The Yaba epidemic has ripped through the population of Bangladesh, urban and rural, poor, middle-class and rich. This is a drug that's manufactured in industrial quantities in the jungles of neighbouring Myanmar. As the economy of Bangladesh has boomed, drug lords have worked to create new markets for their product. And the Rohingya crisis - when nearly a million fled Myanmar for Bangladesh - has created further opportunities for the traffickers, as desperate refugees have been employed as drug mules. The Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, declared a 'war on drugs' last May. Thousands have been arrested. But critics see a disturbing trend - hundreds of suspected Yaba dealers have been killed by law enforcement.
Presenter / producer: Linda Pressly with Morshed Ali Khan
Brazilians wept when their 200-year-old National Museum went up in flames last September. Twenty million items, many of them irreplaceable, were thought to have been reduced to ash when it was gutted by a massive fire. Staff said the loss to science and history was incalculable - and the tragedy, possibly caused by faulty wiring in the long-underfunded institution, led to much national heart-searching about the country's commitment to its heritage. The museum, housed in Brazil's former Imperial Palace in Rio de Janeiro, held unique collections of fossils, animal specimens, indigenous artefacts, as well as Egyptian and Greek treasures - and the oldest human skull found in the Americas.
Some scientists, who saw their entire life's work go up in flames, were in despair - but others vowed to work to rebuild and restock the museum. Now, months on, painstaking archaeological work in the debris has uncovered items that can be restored, while other specialists are setting out on expeditions to acquire new specimens. Tim Whewell reports from Rio on the agonies - and occasional small triumphs - of the slow, exhausting effort to bring a great national institution back to life.
For some in Poland the Cursed Soldiers are national heroes; for others they are murderers. A march in celebration of a group of Polish partisans fighting the Soviets has become the focus of tension in a small community in one of Europe’s oldest forests. Those taking part believe the partisans – known as the Cursed Soldiers – were national heroes, but others remember atrocities committed by them 70 years ago. Some partisans were responsible for the burning of villages and the murder of men, women and children in and around Poland’s Bialowieza forest. The people living the forest are Orthodox and Catholic, Belorussian and Polish; this march threatens to revive past divisions between them. Many believe that far-right groups have hijacked this piece of history to further their nationalist agenda. For Crossing Continents, Maria Margaronis visits the forest to find out why this is causing tensions now; why the locals feel the march is making them feel threatened; and how this reflects wider political rifts in Poland today.
Produced by Charlotte McDonald.
Hunting western paedophiles is a priority for a new police unit tasked with safeguarding children in Nepal. Mired in poverty and still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2015, Nepal is increasingly being targeted by foreign paedophiles who recommend it as a destination when they share child abuse tips on the dark web. In recent years, a series of western men have been charged with raping or sexually assaulting Nepali boys. For Crossing Continents, Jill McGivering follows the under-resourced police unit, hears the stories of victims and perpetrators and examines what makes Nepal so vulnerable to abuse by western men.
This programme contains descriptions of child sexual abuse which some listeners may find distressing.
Produced by Caroline Finnigan.
Eastern Ukraine has been under assault from Russian backed rebel forces for the past five years, but few have heard of a smaller conflict, which could be brewing in the west of the country, between Ukraine and Hungary. Some have accused the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of trying to create a breakaway state in impoverished Transcarpathia, once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Ukraine and Hungary both expelled diplomats from each other’s nations, following a row over passports and a Hungarian cultural centre has been repeatedly firebombed. Lucy Ash meets people in the Ukrainian border town of Berehove and investigates whether deepening tensions could destabilise the region and further dash Ukraine’s hopes of being a unified country inside NATO and the EU.
Producer: Josephine Casserly
(Image: Pupil at a Hungarian-language secondary school in Berehove in Western Ukraine walks down a corridor bearing a portrait of Lajos Kossuth, the 19th Century political reformer after whom the school is named. Credit: Balint Bardi)
Elderly pensioners in Japan are committing petty crimes so that they can be sent to prison. One in five of all prisoners in Japan are now over 65. The number has quadrupled in the last two decades, a result it seems of rising elderly poverty and loneliness, as seniors become increasingly cut-off from their over-worked offspring. In jail old people at least get a bed, a routine and a hot meal, and for many, as Ed discovers, the outside world can seem like a threatening place. For the prison authorities it means an increasingly ageing population behind bars and the challenges of dealing with a range of geriatric health issues.
Produced and reported by Ed Butler.
Old enemies Serbia and Kosovo discuss what for some is unthinkable - an ethnic land swap. This dramatic proposal is one of those being talked about as a means of normalising relations between these former foes. Since the bloody Kosovo war ended with NATO intervention in 1999, civility between Belgrade and Pristina has been in short supply. Redrawing borders along ethnic lines is anathema to many, but politicians in Serbia and Kosovo have their eyes on a bigger prize... For Serbia, that is membership of the European Union. But the EU will not accept Serbia until it makes an accommodation with its neighbour. Kosovo wants to join the EU too, but its immediate priority is recognition at the United Nations, and that is unlikely while Serbia's ally, Russia, continues to thwart Kosovo's ambitions there. Both of these Balkan nations want to exit this impasse. And a land-swap, giving each of them much-coveted territory, might just do it. For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly and producer, Albana Kasapi, visit the two regions at the heart of the proposal - the ethnically Albanian-majority Presevo Valley in Serbia, and the mostly Serb region north of Mitrovica in Kosovo.
(PHOTO: Hevzi Imeri, an ethnic Albanian and Danilo Dabetic, a Serb, play together at the basketball club Play 017 in Bujanovac – one of very few mixed activities for young people in Serbia’s Presevo Valley. BBC photo.)
At 12, Douglas Braga arrived in Rio de Janeiro, a wide-eyed boy, ready to live out the Brazilian dream and become a professional footballer. At 18, he was signed by one of the country’s top teams - but was also starting to realise he couldn’t be true to himself and be a footballer. By 21, he’d quit the game. He knew he was gay and felt there was no place for him in a macho culture where homophobia is commonplace and out gay men are nowhere to be seen.
Now, at 36, Douglas lives in a country that just elected a self-styled “proud homophobe” as president, which some football fans have taken as a licence to step up their homophobic abuse and threats. But Douglas is back on the pitch and - with a growing number of other gay footballers - fighting back.
Reporter David Baker
Producer: Simon Maybin
Thirty years on from the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, what’s happened to the devastated town of Spitak? Rescuers from all over the world came to help search for survivors – among them a team of British firefighters. Now, with reporter Tim Whewell, two of those men are returning - to see how the town’s been rebuilt - and to remember a rescue effort that marked a turning point in East-West relations. The disaster came as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was developing his policy of glasnost (openness) – and his request for foreign assistance was the first such appeal the Kremlin had made in decades. The firefighters relive the drama, grief and courage of those days – and renew old friendships. They discover that Spitak has still not fully recovered from the quake, with many living to this day in squalid temporary housing.
Reporter Tim Whewell.
Where do you come from? Tracing your ancestry in the USA is one of the most popular hobbies along with gardening and golf. TV is awash with advertising for the do-it-yourself genetic testing kits which have become much sought after gifts, especially at Christmas time. The kits have revolutionised family tree research and gone are the days of sifting through old documents. But, as Lucy Ash reports, the DNA results are now revealing far more than many had bargained for. How do you react when you find out your mother had a secret affair half a century ago…and the man who raised you isn’t your dad? Produced by Charlotte McDonald.
China is accused of locking up as many as a million Uighur Muslims without trial across its western region of Xinjiang. The government denies the claims, saying people willingly attend special "vocational schools" to combat "terrorism and religious extremism". But a BBC investigation has found important new evidence of the reality - a vast and rapidly growing network of detention centres, where the people held inside are humiliated and abused. Using detailed satellite analysis and reporting from a part of the country where journalists are routinely detained and harassed; China correspondent John Sudworth offers his in-depth report on China's Hidden Camps.
An investigation into the 'killing machine' of one of Africa's most repressive and secretive countries. Three years ago there was widespread unrest in the East African country of Burundi when the country’s president ran for a third term. Protestors said he was violating the constitution that limits presidential terms to just two. Since then street protests have ended but a BBC investigation has now uncovered evidence of government sponsored torture and killings designed to silence dissent. The government has always denied any human rights violations, and declined to comment on the allegations in this programme. Reporter Maud Jullien. Producers Charlotte Atwood and Michael Gallagher.
*This programme contains graphic scenes of torture and killing.
(Image: A computer generated image of an alleged detention house in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura. A red liquid, which looked like blood, was seen pouring from its gutter. Credit: BBC)
In a Cambodian hospital, a group of terrified new mothers nurse tiny babies under the watch of police guards. They're surrogates, desperately poor women promised $10,000 to bear children for parents in China. But they were arrested under new anti-trafficking rules, and now they face an agonising choice: either they agree to keep children they didn't want and can't easily afford to bring up, children who aren't genetically theirs - or they honour their surrogacy contracts, and face up to 20 years in jail. Tim Whewell reports on the suffering as country after country in Asia cracks down on commercial surrogacy - and asks whether the detained mothers are criminals - or victims.
Nigerian patients held in hospital because they can’t pay their medical bills.
In March 2016, a young woman went into labour. She was rushed to a local, private hospital in south-east Nigeria where she gave birth by caesarean section. But when the hospital discovered this teenage mother didn’t have the money to pay for her treatment, she and her son were unable to leave. They remained there for 16 months – until the police arrived and released them.
This is not an isolated case. In Nigeria, very few health services are free of charge, and campaigners estimate that thousands have been detained in hospitals for failing to pay their bills. It’s become an increasingly high-profile issue – one couple have been awarded compensation after going through the courts.
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly explores a widespread abuse – meeting victims, and the hospital managers attempting to manage their budgets in a health system under enormous pressure, where only 5% of Nigerians are covered by health insurance.
Producer: Josephine Casserly
(Photo: Ngozi Osegbo was awarded compensation by a court after she and her husband were detained in a hospital because they couldn't pay their medical bills. BBC PHOTO)
Simon Cox is in Austria where the authorities have launched an unprecedented operation against a new far right youth organisation, Generation Identity. They prosecuted members of the group including its leader, Martin Sellner, for being an alleged criminal organisation. They are currently appealing the judge's not guilty verdict. The Austrian group is at the heart of a new pan European movement that is vehemently opposed to Muslims and immigration. GI says it is not racist or violent. In Germany more than 100 offences have been committed by its members in just over a year. And the group's co leader in Britain stepped down after he was revealed to have a Neo Nazi past.
Simon Cox reporting. Anna Meisel producing.
The dark secrets of Chile's Catholic Church. El Bosque is the wealthy Santiago parish where Fernando Karadima, a charismatic priest, attracted hundreds of young men to the priesthood. In 2010, he was exposed as a paedophile after survivors revealed he had sexually abused them. The Vatican sentenced Karadima to a life of penance and prayer. But this was no one-off, rogue priest. This year the scale of Chile's abuse scandal has been revealed - multiple allegations of sexual exploitation and cover-up are now being investigated across this Andean nation, including allegations made by a congregation of nuns. At first Pope Francis failed to respond. Subsequently he was forced to send his experts in sex crime to Santiago to hear evidence. Most recently, bishops have resigned, and nearly a hundred priests are being investigated by Chile's prosecutors. For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly travels to Chile to meet survivors of sexual abuse, whistle-blowers and devout Catholics, and explores a story that continues to haunt the Francis papacy.
Presenter: Linda Pressly
Producer in Chile: Jane Chambers
(Photo: Javier Molina, survivor of clerical sexual abuse. When he reported the abuse in 2010, the Catholic Church took no action.).
In parts of Nevada, prostitution is legal - the only such state in the US. The 'live and let live mentality' is a hangover from the gold rush days and in certain counties, brothels have been officially licensed since 1971. Today no fewer than seven of them are owned by one man, Dennis Hof, a gun-toting restaurateur, entrepreneur and reality TV star. He calls himself the "Trump from Pahrump," - after a town where he recently won the Republican primaries for the Nevada State Legislature. Now though, there is a backlash from religious and social activists who have managed to get a referendum on the ballot during this November's mid-term elections. Voters in Lyon County will be asked if the legal brothels there should be allowed to continue to operate - and ultimately, the campaigners aim to end legal sex work across the whole state. They say it is an exploitative, abusive trade and prevents other businesses from investing in the area. But some sex workers are worried that a ban could push them onto the streets where they would face potential danger. Lucy Ash talks to Dennis Hof, the women who work for him, and those who are pushing for change.
Producer Mike Gallagher.
'He was using prisoners like oxen for ploughing for his own gain'. An ex-convict recalls the prison officer in charge of the prison farm he worked on in Uganda. The country has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in Africa. It also has one of the continent's most developed systems of prison labour. For Crossing Continents, Ed Butler reports from Uganda where most of the country's 54,000 inmates are now serving an economic purpose, working for the benefit of an elite collection of private farmers and other business interests - even though half of them have not been convicted of any crime. He speaks to current and former prisoners, to find out how the system works, and asks: is the country breaking its international pledges on prisoner treatment?
Presented and produced by Ed Butler.
(Image: Prisoners at Patongo Prison, Uganda. Credit: David Brunetti).
When someone in Jamaica emigrates to the UK, it is said they have 'gone to foreign'. Over the past 70 years several hundred thousand Jamaicans have done this, following in the footsteps of the so-called 'Windrush generation' who first arrived in Britain in the late 1940s. But the spirit of adventure and optimism those early pioneers bought with them has changed over the years and a recent political scandal now finds some of them unwanted and rejected by Britain. Following changes to immigration law and failing to comply with citizenship requirements, they have been designated illegal immigrants. On returning from holiday in the Caribbean, some of the children of the Windrush generation (now in their 50s and 60s) have been refused entry back to Britain, and others have been deported from Britain back to the Caribbean. For Crossing Continents, Colin Grant travels to Jamaica to meet two men who, despite having lived in the UK for decades, working and paying taxes, find themselves in limbo, trapped and unable to return to the place they call home. What happens when you are stranded in a place you were never really familiar with, an island which you have little memory of, and may not have returned to for half a century? Grant hears of their endeavour to return to the UK and how they have struggled to keep up hope in the face of a very painful and public rejection.
Colin Grant reporting and producing.
Seaweed is liberating women in a conservative corner of east Africa. Thousands of women have gained more control over their lives thanks to Zanzibar's seaweed farms. In a traditional island village there is a surprisingly high divorce rate and women have safeguarded their interests with earnings from this salty crop which has given them a much needed income and new independence. At first the husbands were outraged - they complained that seaweed farming made women too tired for their matrimonial duties. The women eventually prevailed but their hard won freedom is now threatened by climate change. Lucy Ash meets the seaweed farmers of Paje village and looks at the ways they are fighting to save their livelihood and raise their families.
Producer: Chloe Hadjimatheou.
In January, Aurelia Brouwers - a 29 year old Dutch woman, with a history of severe mental illness - lay down on her bed to die. She had been declared eligible for euthanasia a month earlier - Dutch law permits the ending of a life where there is, 'unbearable suffering' without hope of relief. Aurelia's death provoked an outpouring on social media, and widespread discussion within the Netherlands... What if a death wish is part of someone's illness? And does someone with serious mental health challenges have the capacity to make a decision about their own demise? These are questions now being debated in the Netherlands as a result of Aurelia's death. Crossing Continents features recordings of Aurelia made in the two weeks before she died, hears from some of the friends closest to her, and explores the complex terrain of euthanasia for people with psychiatric problems in Holland. Reported and produced by Linda Pressly.
(Image: Aurelia Brouwers. Credit: RTL Nieuws, Sander Paulus)
If you're feeling emotionally distressed and would like details of organisations that offer advice and support, go online to bbc.co.uk/actionline. Or you can call for free to hear recorded information - 0800 066 066.
The conviction of a prominent expert in Norway's troubled child protection system - for downloading images of child sex abuse - has put the organisation under scrutiny once again. In April this year a child psychiatrist was convicted of downloading thousands of the images on his computer. Up until his arrest he played a key role in decisions about whether children should be separated from their parents for their own good. But there has been no public discussion in Norway about the implications of his conviction, no outrage in the newspapers, no plans to review cases he was involved in - even though the country's child protection agency, Barnevernet, has been much criticised in recent years for removing children from their families without justification. In April 2016 Tim Whewell reported on the story for Crossing Continents after Barnevernet attracted an international storm of protest over its child protection policies. Tim now returns to Norway to report on this extraordinary twist in the story and to find out why child protection in one of the world's wealthiest countries appears to be in crisis.
Produced and Reported by Tim Whewell.
(Image: A row of family shoes. Credit: BBC)
Why does South Korea have the lowest fertility rate in the world?
The average South Korean woman is expected to have 1.05 children in her life - exactly half the rate needed to maintain a population. That means a shrinking workforce paying less taxes and more elderly people who will need expensive care. South Korea's government has pumped tens of billions of pounds into dealing with the problem over the past decade, but the fertility rate is still going down. In this whodunnit, Simon Maybin finds out who's not doing it - and why.
Producer: John Murphy
Presenter: Simon Maybin.
Israel gives all Jews the right to citizenship - but has it become less welcoming to African Jews?
Since its founding in 1948, after the horrors of the Holocaust, Israel has seen itself as a safe haven for Jews from anywhere in the world to come to escape persecution. But now that policy is under threat. As Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya are finding, a debate has arisen about who is "Jewish enough" to qualify. David Baker investigates claims that decisions are being made not on the basis of ancestry or religious observance but on the colour of people's skin.
Producer: Simon Maybin
Presenter: David Baker.
China's football-loving President Xi Jinping says he wants his country to qualify for, to host and to win the football World Cup by 2050. The men's national team has recently been defeated 6-0 by Wales, so there's some way to go yet. But they're spending billions trying to boost football in the country. Chinese entrepreneurs have also spent vast sums investing in local and foreign clubs, partly to help create a passion for playing football in the Chinese and to bring the latest training techniques back home.
Another official target for the Chinese government is to eradicate poverty within three years.
For Crossing Continents, Celia Hatton visits a special primary school in Gansu, in China's far west, which is setting out to turn those World Cup dreams into reality. Made up of children whose parents have migrated to the cities for work, the school drills the young pupils in football skills each day, to give them direction and purpose, but also in the hope that some of them will use football as route out of poverty and to garner Chinese success on the pitch.
Producer: John Murphy.
One in ten tractors in the world is made in Belarus. You can find them ploughing furrows and shifting snow in the US, Canada, Pakistan, Thailand...and on the farms of Somerset...At the heart of this big wheeled empire is the Minsk Tractor Works. Impossible to visit until recently, the MTW is opening its doors as part of a new country wide charm offensive. Belarus, long famous for secretiveness and isolation, has relaxed its visa regime since January 2018, and is rebranding itself as a dynamic hub for business and tourism.
Stalin founded the tractor works in 1946 as part of a colossal effort to feed a famished Soviet Union after World War 2. It developed as a cradle-to-grave complex, with its own apartment blocks, holiday camps, hospitals, Palace of Culture, and even water bottling plant. Generations of loyal Belarusians have lived and died knowing no other job.
The IMF and World Bank advisers wrote off such complexes as wasteful when they came to help implement shock therapy privatization in the 1990s.
But MTW is still there. Its 18,000 employees still live in a MTW world - with regular, if modest, pay packets. It's as though the communist-era model has been kept in the freezer to emerge a generation later. For Crossing Continents, Lucy Ash meets the workers and their families who still live and work much in the way their grandparents did. She wonders if the MTW is a preposterous dinosaur or a socially responsible business model, fit for the 21st century.
Presenter: Lucy Ash
Producer: Monica Whitlock.
Corruption Incorporated - the Odebrecht Story
Odebrecht was one of Brazil's premier companies - the largest construction firm in Latin America. But some of its success in securing multi-million dollar contracts across the region was built on a policy of colossal bribery. This edifice of graft began to crumble when the Brazilian authorities started to investigate the state-owned oil company, Petrobras. As a result, CEO Marcelo Odebrecht was convicted of paying millions of dollars in bribes to Petrobras executives in cash-for-contracts. The testimony of Odebrecht executives in plea-bargain agreements with prosecutors continues to have fall-out in an election year, especially with former President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva now in jail on charges related to Brazil's wider corruption scandal.
Linda Pressly explores the organisation at the heart of the Odebrecht scandal - a whole corporate department set up to administer bribes. And she meets the company's new CEO, Luciano Guidolin, who tells her the company will be compliant. It will not tolerate corruption. Meanwhile, the Federal Police of Brazil continue to attempt to crack the codes that prevent them from fully accessing Odebrecht's encrypted computer system.
Presenter: Linda Pressly
Producer in Brazil: Jessica Cruz.
Thousands of young Russian Muslim men were lured to join so-called Islamic State - taking their wives and children with them. But since the "caliphate" fell last year, those families have vanished - and grandmothers back in Russia are desperate for news. The Kremlin wants to bring the children home. It says they've committed no crimes. But finding them and their mothers is hugely difficult. Iraqi authorities say they're holding many IS families - but they won't name them. Gradually though, dramatic scraps of information are emerging - a scribbled note from a prison, whispered phone messages, photos and videos on social media. For months, Tim Whewell has been talking to the grandmothers as they've gathered such clues - and now he travels to Iraq in search of more information, tracing the route the fighters and their families took when they were defeated - and trying to solve the mystery of what happened to them. What was the fate of the men after they surrendered at a remote village school? And what of the reports that many of the women and children were subsequently abducted by a militia? As the story unfolds, Tim confronts a powerful Shia warlord. Will the jihadis' children be released? What kind of justice will their mothers face? And what will the grandmothers - convinced of their daughters' innocence - do to try to get them back?
Presenter Tim Whewell
Producers Nick Sturdee & Mike Gallagher.
A one-woman whirlwind of passion and energy, Sukayna Muhammad Younes is a unique phenomenon in Iraq. A council official in the half-destroyed city of Mosul, former stronghold of so-called Islamic State, she's on a mission to find and identify the thousands of children who went missing during the conflict - and reunite them with their families. It's a massive task - and deeply controversial because Sukayna makes no distinction between children who are victims of IS - and those who belonged to IS families. "They're all just children - all innocent," she says. Tim Whewell follows Sukayna through the rubble of the city, visiting her orphanage, trying to find missing parents, meeting families who want to reclaim children. Can she solve the mystery of Jannat - an abandoned fair-haired girl who may be the daughter of a foreign IS family? Can she help Amal, sister of a dead IS fighter, to adopt her baby niece? How can families afford the expensive DNA tests the authorities require before families can be reunited? As she tries to solve these problems Sukayna also has to look after her own family of six children - and cope with personal tragedy. Two of her brothers were killed by jihadis; her family home, used as an IS base, is now in ruins. Highly charismatic - Sukayna now wants to go into politics. "I am a mini-Iraq," she says - her family includes members of many communities - and she believes the country desperately needs more dynamic, tolerant people like her, to bring real change and overcome divisions. But it's hard to be a high-profile, energetic woman in patriarchal Iraq - and she's faced death threats both from remaining IS supporters - and those who think she's too ready to help "terrorist" families.
Presenter Tim Whewell
Producers Nick Sturdee & Mike Gallagher.
In a rundown neighbourhood in Athens there is a hotel with 4,000 people on its waiting list for rooms. But the roof leaks and the lifts are permanently out of action. None of the guests pay a penny, but everyone's supposed to help with the cooking and cleaning.
City Plaza is a seven-storey super squat housing 400 refugees from 16 different countries and the volunteers who support them.
The hotel went bankrupt during the financial crisis. It remained locked and empty until 2015, when Europe closed its borders leaving tens of thousands of refugees trapped in Greece. Then a group of activists broke in, reconnected the electricity and water and invited hundreds of migrants from the streets to take up residence with them.
The leftist Greek government has so far turned a blind eye and now mainstream NGOs like MSF and even the UNHCR have started co-operating in this illegal project. For Crossing Continents, Maria Margaronis finds out how the hotel operates and get to know the people inside.
Producer: Chloe Hadjimatheou.
Why is troubled Catalonia now opening up civil war mass graves?
Spain has the second largest amount of mass graves in the world after Cambodia. Over 100,000 people disappeared during the 1930s civil war and the ensuing Franco dictatorship. Decades later, the vast majority are still unaccounted for.
Forgetting Spain's painful past and the disappeared is what allowed democracy and peace to flourish, the argument has long gone.
But many have not forgotten - including in the region of Catalonia, where bitter memories of Franco's rule are just beneath the surface. Before Madrid imposed direct rule last October, the pro-independence Catalan government began an unprecedented plan to excavate civil war mass graves and collect DNA from families looking for their lost relatives.
Estelle Doyle travels to the politically troubled region and finds out how, despite direct rule, those seeking answers are more determined than ever to recover the past and to confront Spain's painful history. Others worry that their actions will only but reopen old wounds and further divide the country.
Presenter: Estelle Doyle
Producer: John Murphy.
**This podcast has been changed: Correction: El Soleras is in the West of Catalonia, while Catalonia itself is in the North East of Spain**
For nearly two decades, Swedish health professionals have been treating asylum-seeking children who fall into a deeply listless state. They withdraw from the world, refuse to speak, walk and eat - most end up being tube-fed. They are known as, "the apathetic children" in Sweden. More recently this illness has been termed Resignation Syndrome. Experts agree it is children who have experienced deep trauma who are vulnerable. Doctors link the condition to an uncertain migration status. But why, asks Linda Pressly, does it only seem to happen to children in Sweden, and how can they recover?
Lucy Ash meets the staff and customers of a bakery which is the one bright spot in war-torn east Ukraine. The war there between Russian-backed rebels and the Ukrainian army has dropped out of the headlines and there seems to be little political will to make peace. More than 10,000 people have been killed and as it enters its fourth year, this has become one of the longest conflicts in modern European history. But in the frontline town of Marinka there's one bright spot amidst the gloom - the bakery. It's the first new business in the town since the fighting began and it is bringing some hope and comfort to its traumatised citizens. We meet staff and customers from the bakery to explore a community living on the edge. "The aroma of fresh bread," says the man behind the enterprise, " gives people hope. It smells like normal life."
Producer Albina Kovalyova.
For decades, Brazil has presented itself as a colour-blind nation in which most citizens are, at least to some extent, racially mixed. But a controversial education law is encouraging black Brazilians to assert their own distinct identity. Federal public universities now have to comply with government quotas for black students, as well as others deemed to be at risk of discrimination. Yet, since the rules allow applicants to self-define their colour, there have been numerous alleged frauds, and some universities are now creating inspection boards to assess students based on whether they appear phenotypically black. On the political right, there's a backlash among those who say the quotas are divisive and even racist. While some people of mixed race complain that they are 'not black enough'. But many black Brazilians themselves say they finally have a reason to acknowledge their ethnicity in a country where privilege all too often belongs to those of European descent. For Crossing Continents, David Baker reports on an issue that is at the heart of what it means to be black in Brazil.
Michael Gallagher producing.
A journey up the 'suicidal' Pilcomayo river that separates Paraguay from Argentina... The Pilcomayo is the life-force of one of Latin America's most arid regions. But it is also one of the most heavily silted rivers of the world. As it courses down from the Bolivian Highlands in the months of December and January, half is water, half sand. This means it often causes flooding. Or, it changes course, failing to deliver water to those who depend on it. So in order to benefit communities, this is a river system that needs careful management, and a lot of human input to ensure the water flows. Compounding the fickleness of the Pilcomayo are 3 years of drought in the region. Gabriela Torres travels north from Asuncion up the course of the Pilcomayo during the dry season, visiting communities where the wildlife is dying and the economy under threat. How will the people - and animals - cope this year?
There are 33 ways to dispel a mistress according to one of China's top love detectives. An unusual new industry has taken hold in some of the country's top cities. It's called "mistress-dispelling", and it involves hired operatives doing what it takes to separate cheating husbands from their mistresses. With the surge in super-affluent families in China, there has also been an apparent upsurge in the number of men choosing to keep a concubine. And for wives who see divorce as a humiliating option, almost no expense is sometimes spared in seeing off the rival. For Crossing Continents, Ed Butler meets some of these private detectives and "marriage counsellors", heads off on a mistress "stake-out", and asks whether this is all a symptom of a deeper crisis in gender relations in China.
Reported and produced by Ed Butler.
The brutal, unsolved murder of Malta's most outspoken blogger has blackened the image of the Mediterranean holiday island. Since Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb in October, her son has denounced his country as a mafia state. European leaders say they're deeply concerned about the rule of law there. But on Malta, Daphne was a divisive figure - admired by some as a fearless investigative journalist, detested by others as a snobbish "queen of bile." She herself said there were "two Maltas" - and the reaction to her murder has proved that. So was Daphne's death a political assassination - as one Malta says - or a criminal killing without wider implications, as the other Malta insists? Tim Whewell goes looking for answers on an island where everyone knows everyone, but belongs firmly to one camp or the other. Producer: Estelle Doyle.
As they retreat from Northern Iraq so-called Islamic State has left thousands of women and children behind. Some are the abandoned families of IS fighters, others are being held as prisoners or slaves. There are also boys who were forced to fight for IS. A desperate effort is now underway to reunite these women and children with the families they have been separated from - and to rehabilitate those whose minds have been stolen by the group. Tim Whewell reports from Iraq on the children left behind by the fighters of Islamic state.
In the West Bank hundreds of families share a passion for breeding horses. Amid the narrow streets and cramped apartment buildings small stables can be found with owners grooming beautiful Arabian colts and fillies. These new breeders are now making their mark at Israeli horse shows where competition to produce the best in breed is intense. As Palestinian and Israeli owners mingle on the show ground, political differences are put to one side as they share a passion for the Arabian horse.
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly follows one Palestinian owner and his colt as they navigate their way through Israeli checkpoints to the next big event in the Israeli Kibbutz of Alonim. Winning best in show is the plan but will they even get there?
Estelle Doyle producing.
The chilling story of a massacre of Rohingya muslims in a small village in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. On 30 August government soldiers swept through the village setting fire to homes, raping and killing dozens, possibly hundreds of its muslim inhabitants. An ongoing military crackdown in the state has seen more than 500,000 Rohingya muslims flee to neighbouring Bangladesh since late August. The government of Aung San Suu Kyi has faced international condemnation over the crisis. She says the military is responding to attacks by Rohingya militants. But the Rohingya have long been persecuted in Myanmar: denied citizenship, decent healthcare and education. For Crossing Continents, Gabriel Gatehouse investigates the massacre in Tula Toli. Speaking to survivors in camps in Bangladesh, he pieces together a picture of horrific violence, perpetrated in what has been described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing." And he hears evidence that suggests the violence may have been planned in advance. Producer John Murphy.
Panama's idyllic islands are threatened by a rising sea, but one community has a plan... The Guna Yala archipelago is made up of dozens of tiny, tropical, low-lying islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama. They are populated by the Guna people - Latin America's most fiercely independent, and many would say, most savvy, indigenous group. But the Guna are in trouble. Rising sea levels as a result of climate change, together with a growing population, threaten island life. The Guna aren't alone of course - millions of people around the globe could be displaced from coastal villages as the oceans envelop land in the coming decades. But unlike most vulnerable groups, the Guna of Gardi Sugdub island have a plan. They are intent on building a new community on the mainland, and re-locating. Could their efforts provide a model for other communities confronting climate displacement in the region, and even beyond?
Photo Credit: Simon Maybin.
Uganda has now taken in more than a million refugees who have fled civil war in neighbouring South Sudan. And more are coming every day. It's said that Uganda has the most generous refugee policy in the world, with new arrivals given land and allowed to work. But the majority of South Sudanese refugees are women and children who have lost almost everything and, as Ruth Alexander discovers, the reality of starting a new life from scratch is far from straightforward.
Produced by John Murphy.
What's it like to live in the country with the fastest-shrinking population in the world? In the mountain village of Kalotinsi in western Bulgaria, there is no shop, no school, no bus service. Until a few decades ago, 600 people lived here but now most of the houses stand empty. Thirteen residents remain, struggling to make a life in a place most people have given up on. There are many other near-deserted villages like this in Bulgaria. With women having few children, and many choosing to work abroad, Bulgaria is facing a population crisis. Ruth Alexander travels to the country to find out what life is like for those left behind, and to ask what is being done to reverse the population decline.
Producer: John Murphy.
A young Somali refugee struggles to live the American dream in the USA's whitest state, during the rise of Donald Trump. Is the dream still possible?
In December 2014, in 'Abdi and the Golden Ticket,' the BBC's Leo Hornak followed Somali refugee Abdi Nor Iftin as he battled to make it to America through the US green card lottery.
Since then, Abdi been trying to make a new life for himself in the US state of Maine, striving to become a 'real American'. He hopes to get educated and start a career, but the pressures of supporting a family in Mogadishu make this seem ever more difficult. And then there is the plan to have his brother Hassan join him.
The state of Maine remains almost entirely white, and amid growing public fear of Muslims and immigration, Abdi's American dream runs into obstacles that he never expected. Using personal conversations and audio diaries recorded over three years, 'Abdi in America' documents the highs and lows of one man's struggle to become American.
Producer - Michael Gallagher.
Tim Whewell meets the sailors of Sevastopol. The Crimean coast of the Black Sea has such an allure that Russia risked the world's censure by seizing it from Ukraine in 2014. Home of the Black Sea fleet; seaway to the Middle East and spiritual heart of Russian orthodox Christianity, Crimea and it's naval port, Sevastopol, is a defining part of Russian identity. The Russian navy is now modernising and expanding its historic fleet so as to strengthen Moscow's campaign in Syria in support of President Assad, and against the so-called Islamic State. But what have been the costs of gaining this valuable prize?
Producer: Monica Whitlock.
It's a state that most of the world says doesn't exist. But remote Abkhazia, on the far north-east shore of the Black Sea, has had the trappings of independence for a generation, since it broke away from Georgia in a short but brutal war. Foreign reporters rarely visit Abkhazia - but Tim Whewell gets there by horse-drawn wagon, as it's hard to cross the frontier by car. He finds a stunningly beautiful country still recovering physically and psychologically from the war, that's determined to preserve its independence and ancient culture - including a pagan religion built around animal sacrifices. But the price of statehood is deep isolation - and a future for many young people without opportunities. How long can this "frozen conflict" - and others around the Black Sea - continue?
Producer, Monica Whitlock.
Inside Romania's live, web-camming world - the engine of the online sex industry... Crossing Continents explores the fastest growing sector of so-called, 'adult' entertainment. Locally, it's known as 'video-chat'. And in Romania there are thousands of women logging on, and in 'private' one-to-one sessions undressing (and more) for the international clients who pay to watch them. It is not sex work in the traditional sense - the relationships are virtual, there is no meeting or touching. Linda Pressly meets the women employed in studios and from home, and others with experience of this burgeoning industry.
On December the 14th last year the BBC's Mike Thomson awoke to a desperate voicemail message. It came from a frightened mother of three in besieged East Aleppo. Head teacher, Om Modar, who had been in regular contact with Mike, was pleading for help. Syrian government forces were closing in on the rebel-held area and bombs were falling around the shelter she shared with dozens of petrified children. Her voice, crackling with fear, said: "Please, please help us get out of Aleppo by safe corridor.....we are terrified.....please help us." That was the last Mike heard from Om. Months of silence followed. Finally, he became convinced she was dead. Then out of the blue came a two-line text. It revealed the fate of Om Modar and led Mike to near the Syrian border.
Pakistan is at a crossroads when it comes to gender identity. Kami calls herself Pakistan's first transgender supermodel. She's championing a new transgender identity in a country where there's a strict cultural code for people like her. It's the long established culture of the 'the third gender', also known as Khwaja Sira or Hijra. The community are celebrated as 'Gods chosen people' by many Pakistanis. But the reality is that many Hijras experience discrimination in daily life and complain that basic access to jobs, welfare and familial support is denied. For Kami and others like her this is no longer acceptable. Yet many Hijras shun the new transgender identity and believe it is alien to the established culture of the region. In their view, the very notion of a 'transgender woman' is wrong and could threaten the systems and structures that have provided support for Khwaja Siras for centuries. For Crossing Continents Mobeen Azhar meets Kami and Mani, one of the few openly transgender men in the country, and talks to Khwaja Sira sex workers, dancers and even aspiring politicians. Inside Trans Pakistan explores the tension between the emerging transgender identity in Pakistan and the established 'third gender' culture.
President Donald Trump has pledged to chase what he called the 'bad hombres' out of America. One of the organisations the President is targeting is the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang, better known as MS-13 whose members deal in drugs, human smuggling and underage prostitution. They aggressively recruit young Latino immigrants in U.S. cities and suburban communities and have recently been responsible for a number of shockingly brutal murders, including the killing of two teenage girls with machetes and baseball bats. Lucy Ash travels to Long Island in New York and to Maryland to investigate. She asks what impact such crimes have on the heated debate about illegal border crossings and she asks if tougher immigration policies will really make America safe again.
Every year elephants kill dozens of people in Sri Lanka. Hundreds of these huge mammals are slaughtered too - often by farmers attempting to protect their land. For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly travels to the east of the island - one of the regions devastated by over two decades of civil war. Thousands of people fled their homes during the fighting, and in their absence, the elephants moved in. With peace came resettlement, but many villages are now forced to negotiate a precarious existence with the wild herds, and death-by-elephant is not uncommon. Meanwhile, the government is attempting to take action against the illegal ownership of elephants, and prosecutions are in train. In Sri Lanka, elephants are a status symbol for the rich and powerful, and they are also highly revered in Buddhist culture - no pageant is complete without a slow-moving procession of elephants. But there are claims the confiscation of illegally-kept animals has created a shortage for religious rituals, and criticisms that the government is over-responding to the animal rights lobby. In a fractured nation, elephants are becoming increasingly politicised. Linda Pressly reporting.
Since the beginning of time, man has lived in awe and fear of death, and every culture has faced its mystery through intricate and often ancient rituals. Few, however, are as extreme as those of the Torajan people on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Here, the dead are a constant presence, with corpses often kept in family homes for many years. When funerals are eventually held, they don't mean goodbye. Once every couple of years, the dead are dug back out for a big family reunion. Is this a morbid obsession? Or could it be a positive way of dealing with the grief of losing a loved one? For Crossing Continents, Sahar Zand enters these remarkable communities where the dividing line between this world and the next is like a thin veil - a place with lessons for all of us. Exploring these traditions, Sahar seeks to understand the Torajan way of death and finds it changing her own thinking towards the loss of her own father.
Producers Rebecca Henschke and Bob Howard.
Men in the Faroe Islands are having to look far beyond their shores for marriage. The remote, windswept archipelago between Norway and Iceland, with close ties to Denmark, has seen an influx of women from South-East Asia who have come to marry Faroese men. In recent years the islands have been experiencing a declining population. Young women in particular have been leaving the islands, often for education, and not returning. One complaint from them is that their close-knit community has too conservative and masculine a culture where sheep farming, hunting and fishing are still dominant. For some women Faroese society is simply too small, too constraining. There are now approximately 2,000 fewer women of marriageable age in the total population of 50,000. In response, some men have been looking elsewhere for partners, from countries like Thailand and the Philippines. For Crossing Continents, Tim Ecott meets these foreign women adjusting to life in this isolated group of islands where the elements are harsh and the language impenetrable.
John Murphy producing.
Lung cancer is America's biggest cancer killer. But there is hope: the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has sanctioned trials of CimaVax - a treatment created in Cuba that has extended the lives of hundreds of patients on the island. This is the first time a Cuban drug has been tested in the US.
American cancer patients got wind of CimaVax five years ago. Patients like Judy Ingels - an American with a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis - arrive regularly in Havana, hoping for a miracle. It's traffic that's increased since the US / Cuba thaw.
The creation of Cuba's biotech industry was Fidel Castro's idea back in the 1980s. Today it employs 22,000 people, and sells drugs all over the world - excluding the US. When Presidents Obama and Castro made their momentous move to end hostilities, doctors and patients on both sides of the Florida Straits hoped everyone might benefit from an exchange of life-saving treatments. Now there's deep anxiety. Will President Trump re-freeze the thaw, and jeopardise a revolutionary collaboration?
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly explores Cuba's bio-tech industry. How has this small Caribbean nation been able to develop world-class drugs with its limited resources?
For generations those who, for biological reasons, don't fit the usual male/female categories have faced violence and stigma in Kenya. Intersex people - as they are commonly known in Kenya - were traditionally seen as a bad omen bringing a curse upon their family and neighbours. Most were kept in hiding and many were killed at birth. But now a new generation of home-grown activists and medical experts are helping intersex people to come out into the open. They're rejecting the old idea that intersex people must choose a gender in infancy and stick to it and are calling on the government to instead grant them legal recognition. BBC Africa's Health Correspondent Anne Soy meets some of the rural families struggling to find acceptance for their intersex children and witnesses the efforts health workers and activists are making to promote understanding of the condition. She also meets a successful gospel singer who recently came out as intersex and hears from those who see the campaign for inter-sex recognition as part of a wider attack on the traditional Kenyan family.
Helen Grady producing.
Last summer the emergency services rescued two children from an out-of-control fire in an old industrial building in the commercial area of Hong Kong. It was discovered that a number of people were living in the building. Charlotte McDonald explores the reasons which would drive a family in one of the wealthiest cities in the world to live illegally in a place not fit for human habitation. It's estimated that around 10,000 people live in industrial buildings - although the true number is not known due to the very fact it is not legal. Hong Kong consistently ranks as one of the most expensive places to rent or buy in the world. Already around 200,000 have been forced to rent in what are known as subdivided flats. But now attention has turned to those in even more dire conditions in industrial blocks. From poor government planning, the loss of industry to mainland China and exploitative landlords, we uncover why people are choosing to live in secrecy in neglected buildings.
Charlotte McDonald reporting
Alex Burton producing
Photo credit: SCMP.
Eighty years ago, the Brazilian writer Jorge Amado published Captains of the Sands, a powerfully moving novel about the lives of a gang of orphaned children living on the streets of Salvador. The book had a huge impact, showing wealthy Brazilians the truth about the inequality in their country and the humanity of the children they were used to regarding as "pests". It is now a literary classic and read by almost every Brazilian child at school. Eighty years on, though, thousands of adolescents and children still live in the streets in Salvador. Their lives are still marked by poverty and crime, intensified since Amado's day by the growth of the drugs trade and the addiction and violence it brings. And they still find alternative bonds of family in the kind of gangs that Amado would have recognised. For Crossing Continents, David Baker meets these modern-day Captains of the Sands and hears their stories and those of the people trying to help them.
James Fletcher producing.
Young Russians have gained a reputation on social media for taking the most extreme selfies, often involving death-defying stunts on top of skyscrapers, all for the sake of internet fame.
Lucy Ash travels from Moscow to Siberia to meet some of this trend's most high-profile figures. They explain how they are building themselves into living brands, and the ways they can make money out of their risky roof-top photographs. They reveal what initially motivated them to chance their lives in this way - and an indifference to the rising number of selfie-related deaths in Russia.
The government is less nonchalant though. and around 18 months ago it launched a 'safe selfie' campaign, to warn young people of the risks of taking photos in moving traffic, on top of radio towers, with loaded weapons or with wild animals.
But why has this phenomenon taken root in Russia? Crossing Continents reveals how a mixture of provincial malaise, a misdirected sense of masculinity, and lax law enforcement has allowed extreme selfie culture to flourish.
Producer: Richard Fenton-Smith
Researcher: Tatyana Movshevich.
On the night of the 1st July 2016, five young Bangladeshi Islamist militants stormed a Dhaka restaurant popular with foreign residents and visitors. The siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery was an unprecedented attack in Bangladesh. 29 people lost their lives that night - the majority of them non-Bangladeshis, shot or butchered with machetes. But not everyone was killed. For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly together with local journalist, Morshed Ali Khan, tell the story of what happened inside the restaurant over 11 hours - the chef forced to cook sea bass by the killers, the kitchen worker locked for hours in a single toilet cubicle with 7 other people. There are tales of escape and resistance. Above all, there is courage amidst the carnage, and in the face of bloody adversity.
(Photo L to R: Delwar Hossain, Sumon Rezar, Shishir Sarker. Credit: Linda Pressly/BBC copyright)
Thousands of women - and men - took to the streets in Poland recently in protest against attempts to ban all abortions-and the issue seems to have crystallised a growing unease with the country's move to the right and the power of the Catholic Church. 'We are not putting our umbrellas away' went one of the slogans as women stood in the pouring rain to voice their concerns. The size of the protest surprised even the participants; organised by the feminist movement, it attracted women and men from many different backgrounds. Where did this surge of activism come from? Some argue that the revolution that began with Solidarnosc in the 1980s ignored the needs and voices of Polish women. Communism may have been defeated, they say, but it's been replaced by a different kind of repression. Maria Margaronis investigates. Mark Savage producing.
The Mexican state of Michoacan was the birth place of the Mexican drug war. The town of Cheran is much like other mainly indigenous communities, but it is unique - Cheran has no mayor, no police, and political parties are banned. There are no elections here. Cheran governs itself, after it fought and won a legal battle for political autonomy. The people of Cheran used to suffer as much as their neighbours - extortion, kidnap and murder. But by 2011 they'd had enough. That's when the community - led by women - rose up. They threw out the paramilitary loggers and organised criminal groups who had devastated their forests, then chased away the mayor and the municipal police who were colluding with them. Five years later, the town still runs itself, and the forces of law and order have been replaced by an armed, community militia. Serious crime has plummeted, and the town is re-planting its devastated forest. So how has Cheran survived - and thrived -in such a harsh environment?
Reporter: Linda Pressly
Producers: Tim Mansel & Ulises Escamilla.
Malaysia's government is mired in scandal. Billions of dollars have been looted from a state investment fund. The Prime Minister is accused of receiving $681 million into his personal bank account, although he has denied any wrongdoing.
Earlier this year, punk-inspired artist Fahmi Reza captured public dissatisfaction with an artwork caricaturing the PM as a clown. The image went viral, earning Reza comparisons to street-art provocateur Banksy. It also got him arrested and charged, one of an increasing number of Malaysians facing prison as the government ramps up its suppression of free speech and dissent.
James Fletcher travels to Malaysia on the eve of a major protest rally in Kuala Lumpur. The protest movement is known as 'Bersih', meaning 'clean', and over the past few years they've mobilised hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, dressed in yellow t-shirts, to demand transparency, fair elections, and the PM's resignation. This year they're aiming for their biggest turnout yet. Fahmi Reza is designing placards for the protesters, and plans to attend carrying a giant version of his clown carricature.
But the government is doing everything it can to stop the protest. And there's a new threat - pro-government protesters called the "redshirts", who have disrupted rallies with violence and threatened independent media and free speech advocates.
James spends time with all sides as the protest unfolds. Can art and activism bring Malaysians on to the streets and spur change? Or will the government's crackdown, and the more direct methods of the "redshirts", dampen the protests and allow the PM to ride out criticism and stay in power?
Image: The artist Fahmi Reza with his caricature of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak at the Bersih 5 protest rally held on November 19, 2016.
Photo Credit: BBC
The bizarre and extraordinary story of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the eccentric Russian tycoon and president of FIDE, the international chess governing body. His twenty years in office have been dogged by allegations of corruption and vote-rigging and he’s recently been banned from entering the United States by the US Treasury for his alleged involvement in assisting the Assad regime in Syria. It’s prevented him from presiding over this month’s World Chess Championships in New York. For Assignment Tim Whewell reports from Moscow and New York on the deeply politicised game of chess and asks if it’s finally checkmate for the king of chess.
Dina Newman producing.
Photo: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov with the letter from the US Treasury informing him why he had been placed under US sanctions.
Credit: K.Ilyumzhinov’s archive
India has some of the world's most dangerous roads. The government says almost 150,000 people died on them last year. Nowhere saw more crashes than the booming city of Mumbai. The carnage is relentless, affecting people at every level of society. Neal Razzell meets the Mumbaikers who are saying, enough: a vegetable seller who fills potholes in his spare time after his son died in one; a neurosurgeon whose experience treating victims has led him to try to build trauma centres along one of the worst roads; and an unlikely combination of engineers, activists and police officers with an ambitious plan to bring the number of deaths on a notorious expressway down to zero. It's hoped there will be lessons in Mumbai for all of India. The country is in the midst of an historic road-building push. By 2020, Prime Minister Modi wants to pave a distance greater than the circumference of the earth.
Produced by Michael Gallagher.
Can you learn to code if you've spent your life studying religious texts? Can you be part of the fast-paced, secular world of technology and startups if you're from a conservative religious community? Israel has been called the "Startup Nation", with a flourishing technology sector playing a big role in the country's economy. But one group who haven't traditionally been involved are ultra-Orthodox Jews, known as Haredim. They often live apart from mainstream Israeli society and adhere to strict religious laws covering everything from diet to dress and technology. Many men don't work or serve in the army, spending their lives studying the Torah, subsidised by the government. It's a way of life that leaves many Haredim in poverty, and other Israelis resenting picking up the tab. But in recent years, the ultra-orthodox have been increasingly joining the high-tech world, working in big international tech companies and founding their own startups. David Baker travels to Israel to meet the new breed of high tech Haredim, and find out how they reconcile taking part in the "Startup Nation" with traditional Torah life.
Produced by James Fletcher.
The United States is in the throes of a heroin and opiate epidemic. For Crossing Continents, India Rakusen travels to Lorain County, in the state of Ohio, where addiction has become part of everyday life. West of the city of Cleveland, Avon Lake is a wealthy suburb - its large, expensive properties back onto the shores of Lake Eerie, and wild deer frolic on neat lawns. But behind this façade, there is a crisis. Many families have felt the damaging impact of addiction. And across Lorain County, opiates - pharmaceutical and street heroin - have killed twice as many people in the first six months of 2016 alone, as died in the whole of 2015.
Producer Linda Pressly.
After the last elections in Russia, mass protests against vote-rigging led to clashes in the centre of Moscow. The events on Bolotnaya Square were the biggest challenge President Putin has ever faced to his rule. Four years on, several demonstrators are still serving long prison sentences, the laws on protesting have been tightened and the arrests continue. As Russia gears up for parliamentary elections in September, Sarah Rainsford talks to some of those caught up in the Bolotnaya protests, and asks what their stories tell us about Putin's Russia today.
Producer: Mark Savage.