Rights group says Saudi Arabia border guards fired on, killed hundreds of Ethiopian migrants

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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 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. Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press, but has previously denied its troops killed migrants. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who allegedly make tens of thousands of dollars a week smuggling migrants over the border, also 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 authorization, according to 2022 statistics from the International Organization 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 analyzed 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 kilometers (miles) of satellite imagery captured between February 2022 and July 2023.