African migrants Yemen
African migrants stranded in war-torn Yemen. Photo credit:: © Abdulnasser Alseddik/IMAGESLIVE via ZUMA Wire

The report is based on interviews with more than three dozen Ethiopian migrants who had attempted to reach Saudi Arabia from Yemen.

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Human Rights Watch on Monday said Saudi Arabian border guards have “killed at least hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers” since March 2022, adding that, if these killings were carried out as part of an official government policy, they would constitute a crime against humanity.

In an extensive report, the human rights organization charged these border guards with using explosive weapons to kill scores of migrants. Others, including women and children, were shot at close range in what the group says were “widespread and systematic” attacks. 

The attacks were not only deadly but also cruel. For example, Human Rights Watch accused guards of asking migrants in which limbs they wanted to be shot. Finally, the murders were not limited to people who were trying to enter Saudi Arabia. Instead, the border guards also killed migrants who were trying to flee back to Yemen in order to escape the attacks.

“Saudi officials are killing hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers in this remote border area out of view of the rest of the world,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Nadia Hardman.

The report is based on interviews with more than three dozen Ethiopian migrants who had attempted to reach Saudi Arabia from Yemen in the 15 months beginning in March 2022. In addition, the group also analyzed hundreds of videos and images, including satellite footage.

Human Rights Watch has been monitoring the situation at the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen for nearly a decade. Lately, however, the group believes that the number and manner of the murders has escalated and that this is deliberate.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been trying to use its vast financial resources to polish its image as a serial human rights abuser, e.g., by investing in the PGA Tour or soccer clubs.

However, Human Rights Watch says this type of “sportswashing” should not distract from the Kingdom’s record.

“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,” Hardman said.

The Human Rights Watch report details harrowing accounts of attacks at the border. In total, the migrants interviewed described 28 separate incidents in which guards used explosive weapons on the people trying to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia.

But the atrocities didn’t stop at killing migrants. For example, one 17-year-old boy described an incident in which he and others were forced to rape two girls after killing another man who had refused to do so.

Human Rights Watch called on Saudi Arabia to immediately cease the use of lethal force at the border and to investigate the guards responsible for killing and torturing migrants.

In addition, the group wants a United Nations-backed investigation to determine whether these atrocities constitute crimes against humanity.

“Saudi border guards knew or should have known they were firing on unarmed civilians,” Hardman said. “If 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.”


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