The Mediterranean. Blue skies, gorgeous beaches, picturesque villages… Corruption, poverty and eco-disasters. The latest documentary from BBC presenter Simon Reeve is a sobering, eye-opening journey through Malta, Italy, Albania, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, the Gaza Strip, Libya, Tunisia, Sicily, Ceuta, Morocco, Spain, Corsica and Monaco. The four episodes were grimmer than I was expecting. I was interested to see that the same issues kept surfacing again and again across the countries on the Med:
- Environmental damage, particularly the problems caused by discarded plastic – an estimated 730 tonnes of plastic enters the Mediterranean Sea every day.
- Migration, with so many people from African countries seeking better lives in the ‘promised land’ of Europe – often crossing over illegally and living in terrible conditions.
- Conflicts over borders, which don’t seem like they’ll ever be resolved – impacting upon millions of ordinary people.
- Organised crime and state corruption, allowing drug trafficking and intimidation.
Highlights of this series include:
- Simon and the cameraman crawl through the tunnels beneath a former safe house for members of the Italian criminal organisation ‘Ndrangheta. The network of tunnels runs beneath the entire village. ‘It’s like Alice in Wonderland meets Narcos,’ says Simon.
- Raoul, a 30-year-old turtle of breeding age, is released back into the sea after being rehabilitated by Filippo and Tania at a rescue centre in Brancaleone. Tania, who wears turtle-patterned leggings, sobs as the turtle is set free.
- In Albania, a formerly hardcore communist country which Simon describes as ‘the North Korea of Europe’, a teacher called Lilijana is trying to help a teenage boy who is confined to his house because of ‘kanun’, an ancient blood feud. His dad is in jail for murder, which means that the boy can’t step outside without fear for his own life.
- Staying overnight in an abandoned Maronite cave in Lebanon, Simon is spooked by the sound of hyenas. His guide Raja doesn’t seem worried, despite saying that hyenas always win against humans.
- An engineer called Majd demonstrates her invention in Gaza. Called ‘green cake’, building blocks are made from ashes while there is electricity (for four hours a day). Gaza itself is desperately run down, poor and damaged. As a westerner, Simon risks his life by going there.
- Leptis Magna is a well-preserved Roman city in Libya. The monuments were protected from ISIS by a group of volunteers who were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of this ancient heritage site.
- In Morocco, Simon meets migrants who are hiding and waiting to cross the border into the Spanish-owned port of Ceuta. As he easily gets the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar, he muses upon the ‘accident of birth’ which means he holds a British passport and is able to travel freely.
- Simon is not at all keen on Monaco, calling it the ‘land of the filthy rich’. He finishes his journey here, saying that it encapsulates ‘Europe for the elite, with the ladder pulled up and the drawbridge closed’. We don’t see much of it, other than posh cars and yachts, but it’s certainly a contrast to migrant camps and piles of rubble.
If you have access to BBC iPlayer, this programme is available for a couple more months.