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Dhaka Tribune

HRW: Saudi border guards kill hundreds of Ethiopian migrants

  • Saudi security forces reportedly fired on Ethiopians attempting to cross into the country from Yemen
  • The rights group indicates a potential death toll in the thousands, and ongoing killings continue while the government denies all claims 
  • HRW interviews detail Saudi officials' mistreatment at the border; Saudi's image investments in sports and entertainment shouldn't distract from these crimes
Update : 21 Aug 2023, 05:22 PM

Saudi border guards have fired small arms and sometimes mortar shells at Ethiopian migrants trying to enter the Gulf kingdom through Yemen, killing hundreds of people since last year, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged on Monday.

The group's report draws on interviews with 38 Ethiopians who tried to cross into Saudi Arabia from Yemen between March 2022 and June 2023, in addition to using satellite imagery, videos, and photos.

Recent investigations by HRW have suggested that the killings are still taking place.

What did HRW say?

"Saudi officials are killing hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers in this remote border area out of view of the rest of the world," HRW researcher Nadia Hardman said in a statement.

"Spending billions buying up professional golf, football clubs, and major entertainment events to improve the Saudi image should not deflect attention from these horrendous crimes," she said.

According to the report, those interviewed described 28 "explosive weapons incidents," including attacks by mortar projectiles.

Some interviewees also said border guards sometimes asked victims "in which limb of their body they would prefer to be shot," the report said. 

"All interviewees described scenes of horror: women, men, and children strewn across the mountainous landscape severely injured, dismembered, or already dead," it said.

The latest killings appear to be "widespread and systematic" and may amount to crimes against humanity, according to the report.

What has Riyadh said?

According to The Associated Press, a Saudi government official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly, called the "unfounded and not based on reliable sources."

He offered no evidence to support the assertion. 

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia denied a UN report from October claiming that "cross-border artillery shelling and small arms fire by Saudi Arabia security forces killed approximately 430 migrants" in southern Saudi Arabia and northern Yemen during the first four months of 2022. 

Saudi Arabia's mission to the UN in Geneva sent a letter in March saying that it "categorically refutes" allegations of such border atrocities. It also said it could not "confirm or substantiate the allegations" because of the "limited information" provided by the world body.

What is the situation of Ethiopians in the region?

The alleged atrocities have taken place against the background of the civil war in Yemen.

There, a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels who had seized the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, from the internationally recognized government in 2004, though the conflict has calmed somewhat owing to a truce that has largely held despite expiring in October last year.

Houthi rebels allegedly make tens of thousands of dollars a week smuggling migrants over the border to Saudi Arabia, with tens of thousands of Ethiopians displaced among other things by the two-year civil war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region.

Some 750,000 Ethiopians now live in the kingdom, with as many as 450,000 likely having entered without authorization, according to 2022 statistics from the International Organization for Migration.

Riyadh has been sending thousands back to their home country in cooperation with Addis Ababa.

HRW has reported abuses against Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen for nearly a decade.

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