Hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers who tried to cross the Yemen-Saudi border have been killed by Saudi border guards between March 2022 and June 2023, Human Rights Watch has said.
France24 reports that the Human Rights Watch research which indicates that, at time of writing, the killings were continuing, also noted that Saudi border guards had used explosive weapons and shot people at close range, including women and children, in a pattern that is widespread and systematic.
In some instances, Saudi border guards first asked survivors in which limb of their body they preferred to be shot, before shooting them at close range. Saudi border guards also fired explosive weapons at migrants who had just been released from temporary Saudi detention and were attempting to flee back to Yemen, the report said.
According to the report; it is estimated that approximately 750,000 Ethiopians live and work in Saudi Arabia. While many migrate for economic reasons, a number have fled because of serious human rights abuses by their government, including during the recent, brutal armed conflict in northern Ethiopia.
Ethiopian migrants have for decades attempted the dangerous migration route – known as the “Eastern Route” or sometimes the “Yemeni Route” – from the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden, through Yemen and into Saudi Arabia.
It is estimated that well over 90 percent of the migrants on this route are Ethiopians. The route is also used by migrants from Somalia and Eritrea, and occasionally other east African nations. In recent years, there has been an increase in the proportion of women and girls migrating on the eastern route.
Migrants and asylum seekers described their journey to the Yemen-Saudi border as rife with abuse and controlled by a network of smugglers and traffickers who physically assaulted them to extort payments from family members or contacts in Ethiopia or Saudi Arabia.
Since the armed conflict began in Yemen in 2014, both the government and the Houthi armed group have detained migrants in poor conditions and exposed them to abuse. In 2014, Human Rights Watch documented abuses, including torture, of migrants in detention camps in Yemen run by traffickers attempting to extort payments.
In 2018, Human Rights Watch documented how Yemeni guards tortured and raped Ethiopian and other migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa at a detention center in Aden and worked in collaboration with smugglers to deport migrants in large groups to dangerous conditions at sea.
In 2021, Human Rights Watch documented how scores of mostly Ethiopian migrants burned to death after Houthi forces launched projectiles into an immigration detention center in Sana’a, which they controlled, causing a fire. Yemen is also home to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with the vast majority of the population reliant on aid to survive.