Saudi Forces Reportedly Responsible for Deaths of Hundreds of Ethiopians at Yemen Border
By Sarah Dadouch
Monday August 21, 2023
According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi security forces have been responsible for the deaths of numerous Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers at the border with Yemen. These killings, which involve close-range shootings and the use of explosive weapons against groups in the mountains, may qualify as crimes against humanity.
In a report released on Monday, Human Rights Watch described a pattern of killings that it believes are widespread and systematic. The organization reached this conclusion based on interviews with witnesses and an analysis of evidence dating back to 2021, including photos, videos, and satellite imagery.
Human Rights Watch stated that if the killings were carried out as part of a government policy to murder migrants, they would constitute a crime against humanity. The report alleges that Saudi forces, including border guards and potentially specialized units, have killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of Ethiopians in recent years. Survivors and detainees are also said to have been subjected to torture, rape, and other forms of inhumane treatment.
Human Rights Watch sent letters to multiple Saudi institutions, including the Interior Ministry and Human Rights Commission, but did not receive a response. The Saudi Foreign Ministry also did not comment on the allegations.
Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner of the United States, and American service members have provided training to Saudi security forces, including border guards.
The reported abuses occur against the backdrop of conflicts in Yemen and Ethiopia, which have led to a significant increase in migration between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In Ethiopia, violent conflict erupted in the Tigray region in 2020, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. Millions of people affected by conflict, drought, and hunger in Ethiopia have received humanitarian assistance.
According to Human Rights Watch, the majority of migrants traveling to Saudi Arabia along the “Eastern Route” are Ethiopians seeking to escape war, hunger, and persecution. The dangerous journey starts in the Horn of Africa, crosses the Gulf of Aden, and passes through war-torn Yemen to reach Saudi Arabia’s Jizan province.
An estimated 750,000 Ethiopians currently live in Saudi Arabia, with the majority having arrived through irregular means. Both Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement in Yemen have faced accusations of mistreating migrants and subjecting them to poor conditions and abuses.
However, the rights group’s report focuses specifically on the surge in violence against Ethiopians at the Saudi border. Witnesses describe horrifying scenes of smugglers, piles of corpses, and mortar and rocket attacks that have left migrants dismembered and dying.
The report shares accounts from migrants and asylum seekers and their family members, as well as evidence such as photos, videos, and satellite imagery. It highlights the presence of border posts, detention camps, and burial sites for migrants.
Human Rights Watch emphasizes the need for an independent and impartial investigation into the alleged crimes, including by the United Nations. The organization raises concerns about Saudi Arabia’s track record in addressing human rights abuses, casting doubt on its willingness to conduct a meaningful investigation.