Saudi Arabian border guards have killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants attempting to cross the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border, according to a Monday report from Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report documented incidents between March 2022 and June 2023 using interviews with 42 Ethiopian migrants, satellite imagery and social media posts.
According to the report, Saudi border guards used explosive weapons such as mortars against migrants and shot them at close range with live ammunition. Saudi border guards reportedly fired on people even when they complied with orders.
HRW found expanding Saudi Arabian border security infrastructure on commonly traveled migrant routes, as well as expanding burial grounds near migrant camps. HRW called the recent pattern of killings a change from “an apparent practice of occasional shootings” to “widespread and systematic killings.”
In one incident, a survivor explained that from his group of 170 people, “I know 90 people were killed, because some returned to that place to pick up the dead bodies – they counted around 90 dead bodies.” Another survivor described the fate of his group, “[F]rom 150, only 7 people survived that day … There were remains of people everywhere, scattered everywhere.”
Some who traveled in smaller groups said border guards would let them approach further into Saudi territory, ask them where they were going, and then fire their rifles at them. Interviewees describe being apprehended by armed border guards and asked in which limb of their body they would prefer to be shot. The limb would then be shot.
One person interviewed, A 17-year-old Ethiopian boy, reported that guards executed a migrant who refused to rape another migrant. The boy said border guards forced him and other survivors to rape two girl survivors afterward.
Many Ethiopians attempting to cross the border are fleeing poor economic conditions and human rights abuses, including those committed during the recently ceased armed conflict in northern Ethiopia.
Aljazeera reported that a Saudi government official called HRW’s accusations “baseless.”
In 2018, HRW found human rights abuses by Yemeni government officials at an Aden migrant detention center, a stop on the Yemeni route, including robbing and beating migrants before sending them back to sea. Yemen itself is home to its own domestic humanitarian crisis due to an ongoing armed conflict. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently discussed securing a lasting peace in Yemen with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.
One human rights researcher from HRW demanded a UN investigation and international sanctions for the killing of unarmed migrants and expressed “[i]f there is no justice for what appear to be serious crimes against Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers, it will only fuel further killings and abuses.”