Saudi border guards accused of mass murder of Ethiopian migrants fleeing Yemen

In this July 14, 2019 photo, smugglers lead Ethiopian migrants in Obock, Djibouti. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
By Thomas Brooke
5 Min Read

Saudi border guards have killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants who have attempted to or successfully crossed the country’s border with Yemen since March 2022, a bombshell report by Human Rights Watch has claimed.

The U.S.-based research and advocacy group alleged that Saudi border officials have used mortar projectiles and other explosive weapons to murder those attempting to reach the Islamic nation; they have also shot people, including women and children, at close range, reportedly asking victims in which limb of their body they would prefer to be shot.

It is also alleged that border guards fired at migrants who had been released from Saudi detention camps and were attempting to flee back to Yemen, which is currently engaged in a decade-long civil war.

The allegations relate to the period between March 2022 and June 2023, although the human rights group claims to be in receipt of evidence that the killings are ongoing.

In its report titled, “They Fired on Us Like Rain,” the group published interviews with eyewitnesses to the alleged crimes against humanity, and cite satellite images that purport to show the devastation caused by the unprovoked attacks on migrants. The group states that these images have been verified by forensic experts from the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, which concluded that injuries sustained by the victims show “clear patterns consistent with the explosion of munitions with capacity to produce heat and fragmentation” and “characteristics consistent with gunshot wounds.”

In interviews with the group, eyewitnesses recounted their experience on the migrant trail from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, revealing how they were subjected to explosive attacks with weapons “like a bomb” being fired from the “back of cars.” They explained how the attacks often last hours or days, and when they stopped the survivors would be detained by Saudi border guards and placed in detention camps.

Human Rights Watch research estimated that at least 655 deaths occurred on the migrant trails during the reported period, and the group spoke to one survivor who claimed that over half of the 170-strong migrant caravan he was traveling in were killed.

“I know 90 people were killed because some returned to that place to pick up the dead bodies – they counted around 90 dead bodies,” he told the group.

“We were fired on repeatedly. I saw people killed in a way I have never imagined. I saw 30 killed people on the spot. I pushed myself under a rock and slept there. I could feel people sleeping around me. I realized what I thought were people sleeping around me were actually dead bodies. I woke up, and I was alone,” read the testimony of 14-year-old Hamdiya.

The group does not directly accuse the Saudi government of being involved in the alleged atrocities, but states that “if committed as part of a Saudi government policy to murder migrants, these killings would be a crime against humanity.”

In a list of recommendations, the group called for the Saudi government to “immediately and urgently revoke any policy to deliberately use lethal force on migrants and asylum seekers” if it has indeed implemented such a policy.

It urged governments across the world to condemn the violence and “press for accountability for any senior Saudi officials credibly implicated in ongoing mass killings of migrants and asylum seekers.”

The group further called for governments to suspend the transfer of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia, establish a UN-backed investigation into the alleged abuses and call for a boycott of Saudi-sponsored international events.

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