tv Focus on Europe PBS February 4, 2017 6:00pm-6:31pm PST
damien: hello and a very warm welcome to "focus on europe." great you could join us today. i'm damien mcguinness and today, we're taking a look at some people who do good things, and some people who are doing some very bad things. near naples, poisonous waste has been tipped into the ground for decades. the government claims that this practice is not harmful, but some disagree. they believe the impact on local people is clear. this doctor says that there are signs children in the area suffer from a particularly high incidence of damage to the central nervous system and to their internal organs. cedric is a french farmer in a small village in the mountains near the italian border. normally, his life would be pretty quiet. but because of where he lives, he's suddenly found himself at
the center of one of the biggest humanitarian crises facing europe today, the huge numbers of refugees and migrants coming to the eu. cedric's home is on one of the main routes that asylum seekers take on their way towards northern europe and he's decided to help them. but now cedric is possibly facing prison for what he says is simply his duty as a human being. >> 20-year-old hassan from chad slipped by police checks and special military units to cross the mountainous border from italy to the french village of breil-sur-roya at night. his goal, cedric herrou's farm. >> other refugees who returned to italy told me about this place. word got around that cedric is a person who helps us.
>> with some european countries trying to close their borders, cedric is doing just the opposite, and he's not alone. many volunteers from roya valley, like this nurse, have been helping refugees. cedric says he first saw them coming through the railway tunnel behind his farm. since then, he's had more guests nearly every week. >> these people will never forget how well they were received here, never. in big cities like paris, they're not allowed to put up tents, because it doesn't fit with the city's image. and they're treated like animals, so it's very different. but here, we treat them like people, and i'm proud of that. >> cedric has even taken refugees across from italy in his car without accepting money. and he's been arrested several
times. now the local administration has charged him with aiding and abetting illegal entry. he faces up to five years in prison. the authorities turned down our requests for interviews. 37-year-old cedric sells organic produce at the farmers' market. refugees keep calling him. if they are underage, he reports them to the police, knowing they can't be deported. >> can we get things moving? there are another 15 refugees with friends up there. i reported three about two weeks ago. >> from his manner, you'd never know cedric was a defendant awaiting his trial the next day. >> the official procedure is only followed if we are active. when the police pick teenagers up on the street, and we're not around, they just deport them back to italy. that's illegal. >> each refugee he can help is another small success. but not everyone here shares
that view. >> many people here don't agree. but they've forgotten where they came from. during the last war, italians sought refuge in france, and they're often the ones who are most afraid of migrants. >> with every terrorist attack in france, that fear only grows. in nearby nice, there are still memorials along the promenade commemorating the 85 victims of last summer's attack. >> there are many terrorists are among the immigrants. they should just stay at home. the borders need better protection. they don't respect the rules. >> the solution has to be found there, definitely not here. that just creates more problems. >> cedric's supporters in nice disagree. among them is his brother.
>> the right-wing front national is taking advantage of the fear created by the attacks to gain votes. we have elections in five months. they're fishing for voters everywhere you look. the reality is they don't want blacks to enter the country, because they won't vote for them but it's under the pretext of keeping terrorists out. >> cedric has become something of a symbol for refugee helpers in the roya valley. but cedric doesn't see himself as any kind of hero. he says he just helps people out who would cross the border anyway. >> if you want to stop the refugees, you have to solve the problems in their home countries.
walls don't keep people out. these people are fleeing dictators and war. these problems have to be taken on and understood. it doesn't solve the problem to spread fear and point fingers at people. >> cedric explains how france likes to make a big show of its values. "fraternite" or "brotherhood" stands above the court's entrance and gives him some hope. the trial drags on for hours. no cameras were allowed. the crowd chants "solidarity for refugees" into the night. the state prosecutor's asking for 8 months' probation. cedric hopes for an acquittal. >> i thought the state prosecutor was very aggressive but uninformed about the situation we're actually dealing
with. i hope he understands that the authorities are acting illegally with us. >> cedric says none of the refugees should ever be sent back, that the dangers they face are too great. back in breil-sur-roya, three teenagers are just emerging in the tunnel from italy. they're on the lookout for the police. one attempt to cross has already failed. cedric hopes he'll be able to convince the court in his and the refugees' favor. >> these people are nice. they're a positive factor for society. they have plans. they have hope. that's great for europe. we're getting young and dynamic people. >> if cedric herrou loses the
trial, he intends to appeal. he says the people of roya valley won't back down. damien: they've spent decades building up their businesses. but now, they've suddenly lost everything and in some cases, been forced to flee their homeland. that's what's happened to hundreds of turkish business leaders. they have been accused by the turkish government of supporting opposition islamist groups, who are suspected of having staged a failed coup last year. and so the government is reacting by clamping down severely on any opposition at all, by imprisoning critics and journalists, and stripping some businesses leaders of their assets. it's not only hurting those individual businessmen and their families, but also whole regions. we've been to meet some of those business leaders and it has not been been that easy for our reporter because some people are nervous about speaking out.
>> kayseri is the industrial heart of central anatolia, a region once afflicted with extreme poverty. the city of one million owes its thriving economy primarily to one family, the boydaks. they started with a carpentry shop and built up an empire with an annual turnover of more than 1.5 billion euros and more than 15,000 employees. in mid-2016, all of that came to an end. not because of business problems, but political ones. senior family members were arrested and the factories placed under state control. the boydaks were accused of sympathizing with fethullah gulen, a preacher of islam, who, as president recep tayyip erdogan claims, instigated the attempted coup in turkey. now, an official administrator oversees production in the boydak factories in kayseri. another entrepreneur who did business with the boydaks has also lost everything to the turkish state. >> my company had an annual turnover of 2 million euros.
it was shut down and all the employees were let go. in addition, my personal assets were seized, including our house and my cars. i have nothing left. now i live on welfare as an asylum seeker in germany. he doesn't want to be recognised, because his family is still in turkey. they aren't allowed to leave the country. in may 2016, the police searched his offices. he's accused of supporting a terrorist organization. to date, over 500 business owners in turkey have been expropriated. more than 45 in kayseri alone. there is no parallel in the history of modern turkey. not even the local chamber of commerce would respond to our request for an interview. the workers and neighbors of the boydak factories won't talk to the cameras, either. many seem afraid they'll be next
to be targeted by the state. >> we have nothing to do with them. goodbye. >> only the newsstand operator is prepared to speak, but with caution. >> the president admits he was deceived by the gulen movement. that right to make a mistake should also apply to the boydak family. we shouldn't forget that boydak is not only important for the economy of kayseri, but of all turkey. >> president erdogan seems to rule with an iron hand in downtown kayseri. but economic consequences are already looming, unemployment is already at a record high. members of the last remaining opposition party are willing to give an interview. they say the measures taken against alleged gulen followers are nothing but a pretext, and pose a grave danger to the country's economy.
>> all our warnings have been repeatedly disregarded. and now, erdogan's akp is going after the property of alleged gulen supporters and distributing it to their own people. and for years, they worked together. >> this man is a living example. he was forced into ruin in turkey. now, he's applying for asylum in germany. he worked side-by-side with the akp's top functionaries for years. nobody cared about his sympathies with fethullah gulen. now, his ex-friends see an opportunity to gain wealth at his expense. his situation is desperate. >> for a time, they imprisoned my wife, trying to force me to return to turkey. to this day, no official charges have been filed against me. but i'm facing 15 years in prison. and there's no attorney who would dare to defend me. in prison, they can do whatever they want with me. so i'm staying in germany for
now. >> he and thousands more turkish citizens see no other choice but to remain in exile and start from scratch. damien: now, given the brutal terror attacks we've seen in turkey over the past year, you can understand why the authorities are feeling under pressure. and certainly, governments in many countries do tend to get tougher when faced with terror. although many would certainly say erdogans actions are over the top. let me know what you think about that or any of the topics on today's show. the region around the italian city of naples is famous for being one of the most beautiful parts of italy, but it also has a reputation for being one of the most corrupt. that's partly because the italian mafia group "the camorra" has such a strong hold here. and its corruption that taints
not only political life, but also taints the region's environment, and destroys the health of local people. as our reporter in italy found out, when she went to meet one of the mafia bosses, who is now sitting in gaol. he regrets his actions, and he has become one of the main witnesses in the case against "the camorra," but he also blames the authorities for not doing enough to protect local people. >> we filmed this interview in a secret location in italy. gaetano vasallo was minister of waste for "the camorra, "the mafia. he takes most of the blame for the pollution here in the "terra dei fuochi," the land of fire, a region near naples. he's now in a witness protection programme and regrets what he did. we had to get special approval from the public prosecutor for the interview. >> i'm not making excuses, i take responsibilitiy for what i did. but there were a total of nine trash dumps, and none of us did anything to reduce their danger. no one checked us, on any political level. none of us took care to set the dumps up properly.
>> these 220 hectares of toxic waste have made cancer rates skyrocket in the region. child mortality has risen to unprecedented levels, says antonio marfella, an oncologist at a naples clinic. he's been trying to draw attention to how the mafia's illegal waste disposal business has affected public health here. >> it's obvious that children in this area have disproportionate rates of severe damage to their central nervous systems, urinary tracts, and genitals. these are the organs that are most vulnerable when a child is in the womb. this region has the lowest life expectancy in italy, though we have very little industry. and since 2008, we've been the the most infertile region in all of italy. it's not normal. >> in a study on environmental pollution, italian public health official loredana musmeci simply
ignored the dangers posed by toxic waste. and came to the conclusion that the situation is not cause for concern. >> there are lots of very polluted areas in italy. there are plenty of others, and they're more or less equally bad. the european environment agency estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of areas like these in europe. and italy is roughly average, compared with other eu countries. terra dei fuochi is no different from other regions. >> gaetano vasallo says industrial and chemical toxic waste from all over italy is buried here. business was so good that vasallo became a multi-millionaire. but 8 years ago he got out, because he was afraid the mafia was planning to murder his wife and children. he tells us that in all those
years, no one asked him what he was burying. >> the province was responsible for supervising the dump. but the permit came from the regional government. so the two were constantly at odds. the regional government stopped caring. the provincial authority only came by to collect bribes. he would make a complaint and withdraw it when i gave him money. we had plenty of cashflow. no one refused the money. >> toxic waste is bad enough, but in addition, more and more trash is now just being illegally dumped by the roadside. vincenzo tosti is fighting not only cancer, but also illegal waste and the sinister business behind it that puts residents and nature at risk. construction waste, fabric, written off cars, there's actually a system behind this illegal disposal. >> look at this. prescriptions. pharmacies order drugs and are
reimbursed by health insurance companies. the trash workers make tons of money on this. instead of properly disposing of the medications, they just throw them by the roadside. >> we encounter some inspectors. they ask what we are up to but seem rather powerless. >> we come here every day, but there's nothing we can do. we check whether anyone is burning garbage. we note where the garbage is, because that's where it's burned. >> what can you do if you're not here all day? >> we are. we're always looking out. >> often refugees are given a few euros to burn garbage. the hazardous waste that vasallo and many others buried has contaminated the ground water. mario de biase tries to rescue what can still be saved. in a few years, the region could potentially be recultivated.
but beauracracy and corruption stand in the way. often, people simply don't understand the situation. >> it's easier to tell local residents, "don't eat regional tomatoes for a few years." you can't really say, "stop breathing." >> gaetano vasallo will be in prison for years for what he did. but people in the terra dei fuochi will have justice only when their land recovers and they can live a healthy life. when that will be is anyone's guess. damien: at the moment, much of europe is covered in snow and ice. that's because we're having an unusually cold winter. so the toboggans and sledges are out in the streets of berlin where i live. and people are walking very tentatively indeed along the icy pavements. even parts of greece and italy are seeing snow, all of which is causing travel chaos across the continent. and is particularly a problem for vulnerable people, like refugees or the homeless.
dozens of people have died from the cold already this winter, particularly in poorer parts of eastern europe. but for one area of europe, all this is nothing new, the far north of norway. and morten is one of the people who helps the finnmark region survive by clearing the road of snow in the winter. >> snow and ice as far as the eye can see. morten blien needs to deice the snow plough again. with temperatures around -20 degrees celsius, everything freezes solid within a matter of minutes. he needs to remove the ice before he can start his next rounds. >> it's like this every hour. we want people to see our lights and the cars behind us need to be able to see the back of our vehicles. >> morten started his shift eight hours ago. he needs to make sure the small villages aren't cut off from the outside world. also, many trucks from russia use the roads here in the finnmark region. the border is only around 200 kilometers away.
but morten says nobody here feels affected by the tensions and crises with moscow, and he has always gotten along fine with his eastern neighbours. >> we can't say anything bad about russia. of course, there are some environmental issues with the russian nuclear waste near the border. we are concerned that it could become a danger at some point. but otherwise, we have no problems with russia. >> when morten isn't out on the snowplow, he spends his time tinkering with other machines. he's a keen mechanic like many people here. in his spare time, he enjoys racing his snowmobile, but not on snow. he takes it out onto the water. this rare sport is referred to as "watercross." >> "watercross" is a snow sled
with a special changes to drive on water. if you run too slow you sink, if you fun too fast you crash. >> he's enjoyed great success in recent years. he's become european champion and holds the world long distance record. he covered no less than 212 kilometers on a river nonstop. then he ran out of gas, and he and his machine sank. morten is living the dream. he spends almost every free moment in his garage workshop. and in the hunting season, you'll also see the occasional elk hanging here. the traditional christmas meal is also held in the garage. morten's wife gunhild provides the festive atmosphere.
candles are a must. this lighter is just something she had lying around. and the snowmobile takes pride of place at the head of the table. morten's friends don't often meet, they live a long way from each other. so the roast meal is a great occasion to catch up on the latest news, and the possible tax hikes for gas. >> gas and diesel are expensive. they keep raising the prices. now they want to introduce a road toll, but we hardly have any roads up here. the people in government and from the cities don't know what life is like here. you can see that by the
decisions they make. many of them have never left the city. >> morten's wife gunhild did though, and has no regrets. >> the great thing is you can do what you like here. the peole are very friendly. that's why i stayed. i planned to spend a year here, but that was 10 years ago. after the feast, morten sets off on the snowplow again. this time at night. it's snowed again. the winters are long in northern norway and the well-paid jobs are in the south, but morten would never consider relocating. >> too many people, too much stress. life is expensive and you get little free time. it's hard to pursue your hobbies there, you're always on the go. you live in apartment buildings, not in houses.
life is better here in the country. >> the winters may be too much for some people, but for morten, there's nowhere better. damien: i have to say, i don't really think i envy him or his job. well, that's all for this week. thanks for watching. do feel free to get in touch on twitter, email or facebook with your thoughts or comments. we always love hearing from you. but for now, it's goodbye from me, and the whole team here. and do join michelle next week for more personal stories from all over europe. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy.