Assignment on the BBC World Service aims to tell world stories from the point of view of those most affected by them; the victims, the witnesses, and the perpetrators.
In the episode ‘ISIS: Looting for Terror’, Simon Cox travels to Beirut, Damascus, Amsterdam, and London to investigate the smuggling of Syrian artefacts, many of which appear to come from areas controlled by ISIS. He talks to a young smuggler, who complains that ISIS has taken control over much of the illicit trade, using their overseas contacts. Cox traces the transportation of artefacts from ISIS-controlled areas of Syria, like the city of Raqqa, over the border to Lebanon. They are then shipped to countries like Turkey and Cyprus, before being taken further into Europe for sale, especially to London, a major centre for the antiquities trade.
With David Gill from the University of Suffolk, Cox visits antique shops in central London; to their surprise, they find rows of late Roman and Byzantine glass, still with earth deposits on them, together with coins from the Seleucid Empire – all of which likely originate from Syria. It is unclear how much money ISIS is making from the looting and sale of antiquities. A middle man to whom Cox talks, says that ISIS takes 20 per cent, and financial details found from a commander shot dead by Iraqi forces suggests that the jihadist group could have made up to 24 million dollars, although this has not been verified. Cox talks to a variety of people, from police investigators, scholars, UNESCO officials, and the smugglers themselves. It is fascinating to hear the testimony of such a variety of people. Assignment provides a more in-depth yet simultaneously broad view of current international affairs.
Other episodes include an investigation into the Maidan shootings in Ukraine last year, when police opened fire on unarmed protestors, causing 50 deaths. Each episode deals with pressing issues from a huge range of countries, from Switzerland, France, and Japan, to America, Syria, and Ukraine. The series comes highly recommended for anyone looking to find out more about current affairs from all over the world.