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Rights group says Saudi Arabian border guards fired on and killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants

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DUBAI, Aug 21 (AP): Border guards in Saudi Arabia have fired machine guns and launched mortars at
Ethiopians trying to cross into the kingdom from Yemen, likely killing hundreds of the unarmed
migrants in recent years, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday.
The rights group cited eyewitness reports of attacks by troops and images that showed dead bodies
and burial sites on migrant routes, saying the death toll could even be “possibly thousands.”
The United Nations has already questioned Saudi Arabia about its troops opening fire on the
migrants in an escalating pattern of attacks along its southern border with war-torn Yemen.
A Saudi government official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak
publicly, called the Human Rights Watch report “unfounded and not based on reliable sources,”
without offering evidence to support the assertion.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who allegedly make tens of thousands of dollars a week smuggling migrants
over the border, did not respond to requests for comment.
Some 750,000 Ethiopians live in Saudi Arabia, with as many as 450,000 likely having entered the
kingdom without authorisation, according to 2022 statistics from the International Organisation for
Migration. The two-year civil war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region displaced tens of thousands of
people.
Saudi Arabia, struggling with youth unemployment, has been sending thousands back to Ethiopia in
concert with Addis Abba.
Human Rights Watch said it spoke to 38 Ethiopian migrants and four relatives of people who
attempted to cross the border between March 2022 and June 2023 who said they saw Saudi guards
shoot at migrants or launch explosives at groups.
The report said the group also analysed over 350 videos and photographs posted to social media or
gathered from other sources filmed between May 12, 2021, and July 18, 2023. It also examined
several hundred square kilometres of satellite imagery captured between February 2022 and July
2023.
“These show dead and wounded migrants on the trails, in camps and in medical facilities, how burial
sites near the migrant camps grew in size, the expanding Saudi Arabian border security
infrastructure, and the routes currently used by the migrants to attempt border crossings,” the
report said.
An April 27 satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press showed the same
tent structures identified by the rights group near al-Raqw, Yemen, on the Saudi border. Two sets of
fence lines could be seen just across the border into Saudi Arabia.
The site Human Rights Watch identified as the migrant camp at Al-Thabit also could be seen in
satellite images, which corresponded to the group’s narrative that the camp largely had been
dismantled in early April.
Both areas are in northwestern Yemen, the stronghold of the country’s Houthi rebels. The UN has
said that the Houthi-controlled immigration office “collaborates with traffickers to systematically
direct migrants” to Saudi Arabia, bringing in USD 50,000 a week.
The Houthis have held Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, since September 2014. A Saudi-led coalition has
battled the Houthis since March 2015, without dislodging them from the capital.
Fighting has largely halted between the Saudi-led forces and the Houthis as Riyadh seeks a way to
end the war. However, throughout the war years, the Houthis claimed multiple incursions across the
Saudi border in this mountainous region.
Migrants from Ethiopia have found themselves detained, abused and even killed in Saudi Arabia and
Yemen during the war. But in recent months, there has been growing concern from the UN human
rights body about Saudi forces attacking migrants coming in from Yemen.

An October 3, 2022, letter to the kingdom from the UN said its investigators “received concerning
allegations of cross-border artillery shelling and small arms fire allegedly by Saudi security forces
causing the deaths of up to 430 and injuring 650 migrants.”
“If migrants are captured, they are reportedly oftentimes subjected to torture by being lined up and
shot through the side of the leg to see how far the bullet will go or asked if they prefer to be shot in
the hand or the leg,” the letter from the UN reads. “Survivors of such attacks reported having to play
dead’s for a period of time in order to escape.”
A letter sent by Saudi Arabia’s mission to the UN in Geneva in March said that it “categorically
refutes” allegations that the kingdom carries out any “systematic” killings on the border. However, it
also said the UN provided “limited information” so it could not “confirm or substantiate the
allegations.”

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