In a shocking report released on Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Saudi Arabia's border guards of firing machine guns and launching mortars at Ethiopian migrants attempting to cross into the kingdom from war-torn Yemen, resulting in the deaths of hundreds, possibly even thousands, of unarmed migrants. The report is based on eyewitness accounts and images of dead bodies and burial sites along migrant routes provided by Ethiopians who attempted to cross the border between March 2022 and June 2023.
The United Nations has already raised concerns about the Saudi forces opening fire on migrants along its southern border with Yemen, and the HRW report further substantiates these allegations. A Saudi government official, however, dismissed the report as "unfounded and not based on reliable sources" without providing any evidence to support the claim.
Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are alleged to make tens of thousands of dollars a week smuggling migrants over the border, did not respond to requests for comment on the matter. It is estimated that there are around 750,000 Ethiopians currently living in Saudi Arabia, with up to 450,000 having entered the kingdom without authorization. These unauthorized migrants often face detention, abuse, and even death in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The HRW report also highlights the role played by Houthi-controlled immigration offices in facilitating the migration of Ethiopians to Saudi Arabia. The rebels reportedly collaborate with traffickers and earn significant sums of money from this illegal activity. The conflict between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition, which has been ongoing since 2015, has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, with millions of people in Yemen dependent on aid.
The report presents a grim picture of the violence faced by Ethiopian migrants attempting to cross into Saudi Arabia. Survivors have described being shot at by Saudi border guards, with some being forced to "play dead" in order to escape. The report also details instances of torture, including migrants being shot in the legs or hands to test the range of the bullet. Some survivors have reported witnessing fellow migrants being dismembered or raped, while others have described being beaten with rocks and iron bars.
HRW has called on the Saudi government to put an end to the use of lethal force against migrants and asylum seekers and has urged the United Nations to launch an investigation into the alleged killings. The report raises serious concerns about the treatment of migrants along the Saudi-Yemen border and highlights the need for international action to address these abuses.