HRW: Saudi Border Guards Killed Hundreds of Ethiopian Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Human Rights Watch has confirmed that Saudi border guards killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers who attempted to cross the Yemeni-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023. The organization released a 73-page report titled “They Fired on Us Like Rain: Saudi Arabian Mass Killings of Ethiopian Migrants at the Yemen-Saudi Border” on Monday.

The report stated that the organization interviewed 42 people, including 38 Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers, who tried to cross the Yemeni-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023. It also analyzed over 350 videos and images published on social media or collected from other sources, as well as satellite imagery covering several hundred square kilometers.

According to the report, the Saudi border guards used explosive weapons and fired at people, including women and children, from close range in a widespread and systematic pattern. In some cases, the Saudi border guards first asked survivors which part of their body they preferred to be shot at before shooting them at close range.

The report also indicated that the Saudi border guards fired explosive weapons at migrants who had just been released after being temporarily detained by the Saudi authorities and were trying to escape back to Yemen.

The report quoted people who were traveling in small groups or alone describing horrific scenes: “Women, men and children scattered across mountainous areas with severe injuries and missing limbs, or lifeless bodies.”

One person said: “I was eating with people I later saw dead… Recognizing some became impossible because their body parts were scattered, while others were cut in half.”

Human Rights Watch considered that the documented killings in this report appear to be a deliberate escalation in the number and manner of targeted killings. The report shows a shift in the pattern of violations from what appears to be sporadic shooting and mass arrests to systematic and widespread killing. It stressed that these killings could amount to crimes against humanity if they are widespread, systematic, and part of a state policy to intentionally kill civilian populations.

Nadia Hardman, a Refugee and Migrant Rights Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “In this remote border area, away from the eyes of the world, Saudi officials are killing hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers.” She also noted that “Spending billions to buy professional golf trophies, football clubs, and entertainment events to improve Saudi Arabia’s image should not distract from these horrific crimes.”

The report called on the Saudi government to immediately repeal any policy of using lethal force against migrants and asylum seekers. It also called for an investigation into security personnel responsible for unlawful killings, injuries, and torture on the Yemeni border. Human Rights Watch called for a UN-backed investigation to assess violations against migrants, and whether the killings amount to crimes against humanity.

Concerned governments should publicly call on Saudi Arabia to end any such policy and press for accountability. The report said that “Saudi Arabia should immediately and definitively repeal any policy, whether explicit or de facto, of using lethal force against migrants and asylum seekers.” It called on the Saudi government to investigate security personnel responsible for unlawful killings, injuries, and torture on the Yemeni border and discipline or prosecute them as appropriate.

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