Human Rights Watch: Saudi Border Guards Shot Hundreds of Ethiopian Migrants

Published: 23 August 2023

Ethiopian RefugeesMigrants from Ethiopia attempting to cross the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia are subjected to abuse and killing. (Photo: PxHere, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

Saudi border guards have systematically killed hundreds of migrants, including women and children, who were trying to cross the border from Yemen over the past year. If this constitutes a government policy, then these killings are crimes against humanity, as stated by Human Rights Watch on Monday.

Based on hundreds of videos, photographs, satellite images, as well as interviews with 40 migrants and asylum seekers from Ethiopia who attempted to cross that border from March 2022 to June 2023, the killings have been systematic, with a significant escalation in both number and form, according to the human rights watchdog.

The interviewees described that, when traveling in groups, they were shot at with projectiles and other explosive weapons in attacks that would last for hours or even days. People were left wounded, dismembered, and killed.

“Once the attacks stopped, survivors were often then approached by Saudi border guards and detained, sometimes for months,” the report said. “All described scenes of horror: women, men, and children strewn across the mountainous landscape severely injured, dismembered, or already dead. Many who said they managed to escape described the guilt of not being able to carry victims to safety, often after having been severely injured themselves.”

The number of migrants from Ethiopia in Saudi Arabia exceeds 700,000 and the reasons for migration include economic hardship and human rights abuses by the government, including a two-year armed conflict in northern Ethiopia that began in 2020.

The abuses and killings of migrants from Ethiopia and other countries have been documented in Yemen since 2014. The war devastating Yemen has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises globally so the migrants proceed to Saudi Arabia. The Yemen-Saudi border is considered one of the most dangerous migrant routes in the world.

When migrants traveled in small groups or alone and attempted to cross the border, guards shot them at point-blank range, the report said. They also reported that guards executed, beat, and even forced them to sexually abuse female migrants.

“Interviewees describe being apprehended by armed border guards and being asked in which limb of their body they would prefer to be shot, and then the border guard would shoot that limb. People also described guards beating them with rocks and metal bars,” witnesses said.

The migrants are also victims of extortion. Smugglers sometimes collaborate with rebel groups from Yemen and together send migrants who fail to provide extortion fees to places of detention where they must pay an "exit fee" in order to be released.