A child fills a container with water at a camp for migrants of African origin in the Khor Maksar district of Yemen's second city of Aden on March 3, 2022.

A child fills a container with water at a camp for migrants of African origin in the Khor Maksar district of Yemen's second city of Aden on March 3, 2022.

Photo by SALEH OBAIDI/AFP via Getty Images.

Hundreds of Migrants Killed by Saudi Guards at Yemen Border

Saudi border forces accused of deadly actions against Ethiopian migrants, human rights group reports.

Saudi border forces have been implicated in the deaths of hundreds of Ethiopian migrants attempting to cross into Saudi Arabia from Yemen over the past 18 months, a report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleges. The 73-page report claims that security forces employed "explosive weapons" against migrants and, in some instances, even asked them to specify which limb they preferred to be shot.

Nadia Hardman, a researcher specializing in refugee and migrant rights at HRW, stated, “Saudi officials are killing hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers in this remote border area out of view of the rest of the world. Saudi border guards knew or should have known they were firing on unarmed civilians.”

HRW conducted interviews with 42 Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers and meticulously analyzed over 350 videos, photographs shared on social media platforms, and satellite imagery. These sources collectively presented a compelling case, demonstrating casualties along the migrant trail, within camps and medical facilities, burial sites, and the "expanding Saudi border security infrastructure."

Forensic pathologists examining videos shared on platforms like TikTok and Facebook found evidence of deceased bodies along the migrant trail near the Yemen-Saudi border, as well as migrants displaying wounds consistent with explosive blasts or gunshot injuries, all of which HRW claimed to have vetted and authenticated.

According to HRW, along the perilous journey, migrants boarded dangerously overcrowded vessels departing from Djibouti into Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory. Here, smugglers categorized them based on their Ethiopian ethnicity for language purposes, detaining them in camps near Saada, in northern Yemen, close to the Saudi border. These camps accommodated tens of thousands of migrants awaiting entry into Saudi Arabia.

The migrants recounted harrowing experiences, including beatings, sexual assault, and extortion by smugglers. Those unable to meet the smugglers' demands found themselves confined in cramped Houthi-run detention centers, where they reported further abuse and coercion, HRW detailed.

HRW's investigation revealed several videos allegedly recorded near an informal migrant camp, showcasing Saudi border guard posts and newly erected fences in the vicinity. Additionally, satellite imagery obtained by the organization pointed to the presence of growing graveyards nearby.

Responding to these allegations, an anonymous Saudi government source told CNN that the claims made in the HRW report regarding Saudi border guards shooting Ethiopians were "unfounded and not based on reliable sources." The source did not provide further details.

The "Eastern Route" has long served as a perilous path for Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers seeking to journey from the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden, and ultimately reaching Saudi Arabia, according to HRW. These alleged atrocities have unfolded amidst the backdrop of the civil war in Yemen.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when Houthi forces seized the capital, Sanaa, and overthrew the internationally recognized and Saudi-backed government. The conflict escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened to counter the Houthis.

While a truce has provided some respite, the Houthi rebels reportedly earn substantial sums smuggling migrants into Saudi Arabia, including tens of thousands of Ethiopians displaced by the ongoing civil war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region.

According to 2022 statistics from the International Organization for Migration, approximately 750,000 Ethiopians reside in Saudi Arabia, with up to 450,000 estimated to have entered without authorization. Riyadh has been cooperating with Addis Ababa to repatriate thousands of these individuals.