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MILAN, Italy – In a fast food restaurant at Milan's train station, Ahmed Khalil, his wife and three children told Sheila MacVicar a remarkable story of human endurance.
They had come from a suburb of Damascus – refugees from one of the most brutal massacres of Syria's vicious civil war, survivors of an odyssey through some of the most dangerous territory on earth and a treacherous crossing of the Mediterranean. The Khalils were heading to their promised land – Austria – chosen because the country looked nice in an old National Geographic magazine and because they had heard it was kind.
It had taken them two years to get this far.
Al Jazeera America's new show Compass, anchored by MacVicar, will introduce American viewers to people like the Khalils who are caught in the crosshairs of geopolitics. MacVicar, whose three-decade journalism career has taken her from conflict zones to world capitals – winning three Emmys and a Peabody along the way – will crisscross the planet to expose the human toll of policies conceived in the halls of power.
Through unfiltered, on-the-ground reporting, MacVicar will uncover hidden agendas, strategic failures and political power plays. In interviews with leading policymakers and diplomats, she'll drill down on the role and responsibilities of national governments, especially the U.S. government, in crises around the world.
In our first program, MacVicar traces Europe's "Invisible Railroad," and go inside a game – played by both migrants and authorities – to shuffle asylum-seekers from country to country. For the Khalil family, the key to a new life was a simple trick: Don't get fingerprinted until you reach your chosen destination. In Europe's barely functioning migrant management system, wherever you get printed is where you get processed. More than 170,000 refugees landed in Italy in 2014, but few wanted to stay.
In future episodes, Compass will follow the new heroin smuggling route from Mexico, which has overtaken Colombia as the biggest American importer of the drug, to West Virginia, where an appetite for prescription pain pills has transformed into a full-blown heroin epidemic.
We'll also head to the middle of the Pacific to see whether the Marshall Islands' fight to stay above water might be a warning that a tidal wave of climate refugees could soon be on the move.
Compass hopes to be a different kind of foreign policy show, one that maps the connections between the U.S. Capitol and human stories on the other side of the world, diplomatic maneuvers and the lives upended by them.
Tune into the Compass' premiere, Sunday, May 10, at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 PT on Al Jazeera America.