Saudi Arabia border guards are accused of the mass killing of migrants along the Yemeni border in a new report by Human Rights Watch. The report says hundreds of people, many of them Ethiopians who cross war-torn Yemen to reach Saudi Arabia, have been shot dead.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, titled They Fired on Us Like Rain, contains graphic testimony from migrants who say they were shot at and sometimes targeted with explosive weapons by Saudi police and soldiers on Yemen’s rugged northern border with Saudi Arabia. Migrants contacted separately spoke of terrifying night-time crossings during which large groups of Ethiopians, including many women and children, came under fire as they attempted to cross the border in search of work in the oil-rich kingdom.
“The shooting went on and on,” 21-year-old Mustafa Soufia Mohammed said. He said some in his group of 45 migrants were killed when they came under fire as they tried to sneak across the border in July last year. “I didn’t even notice I was shot,” he said, “but when I tried to get up and walk, part of my leg was not with me.” It was a brutal, chaotic end to a three-month journey fraught with danger, starvation and violence at the hands of Yemeni and Ethiopian smugglers.
A video filmed hours later shows his left foot almost completely severed. Mustafa’s leg was amputated below the knee and now, back with his parents in Ethiopia, he walks with crutches and an ill-fitting prosthetic limb. “I went to Saudi Arabia because I wanted to improve my family’s life,” the father-of-two said, “but what I hoped for didn’t materialise. Now my parents do everything for me.”
According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, more than 200,000 people a year attempt a perilous journey, crossing by sea from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and then travelling on to Saudi Arabia. Human rights organisations say many experience imprisonment and beatings along the way.
The sea crossing is dangerous enough. More than 24 migrants were reported missing last week after a shipwreck off the coast of Djibouti. In Yemen, the main migrant routes are littered with the graves of people who have died along the way. Dozens of migrants were killed two years ago when a fire tore through a detention centre in the capital, Sanaa, run by the country’s Houthi rebels who control most of northern Yemen.
The report, which covers the period from March 2022 to June this year, details 28 separate incidents involving explosive weapons and 14 shootings at close range. “I have seen hundreds of graphic images and videos sent to me by survivors. They depict pretty terrifying injuries and blast wounds.”
The remoteness of the border crossings and the difficulty of tracking down survivors make it impossible to know precisely how many people have been killed, say the authors. “We say a minimum of 655, but it’s likely to be thousands,” Hardman said. “We have factually demonstrated that the abuses are widespread and systematic and may amount to a crime against humanity,” she said.
The Saudi government said it took the allegations seriously but strongly rejected the UN’s characterisation that the killings were systematic or large-scale. “Based on the limited information provided,” the government replied, “authorities within the Kingdom have discovered no information or evidence to confirm or substantiate the allegations.” BBC