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Biden Administration Knew Saudis Were Slaughtering Migrants, But Chose Not To Address It Publicly

New information shows the U.S. was briefed last December on Saudi migrant killings

The Biden administration was made aware last year that border guards in Saudi Arabia were using explosives and guns against migrants, yet chose to not address the matter publicly.

U.S. diplomats were briefed by United Nations officials last December about reports that Saudi security forces were shooting and shelling migrants, leaving thousands dead, according to U.S. officials who attended the meetings and spoke with The New York Times.

Since learning of the abuse, U.S. officials have not publicly condemned the Saudi guards. But, following a recent report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailing the mass killings, diplomats have now reached out to their Saudi counterparts requesting an investigation.

HRW interviewed 42 Ethiopian migrants (or their friends and relatives), analyzed 350 photos, videos, and satellite imagery, and confirmed that between March 2022 and June 2023, Saudi border guards were using explosives and firearms against migrants attempting to cross the Yemen-Saudi border.

Interviewees said that men, women, and children were blasted with explosive weapons, while some were shot. Saudi Arabia formally denied the report, saying the claims are “unfounded and based on unreliable sources.”

“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,” Human Rights Watch said in the 73-page report. “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.”

During one series of crossings, with a total of 1,278 migrants, more than half were slaughtered by Saudi forces. In a separate series of crossings, involving 1,630 people, only 281 survived, interviewees told HRW.

According to the report, if killing migrants is official Saudi policy, it would be considered a crime against humanity.

Shortly after The New York Times report was published, the U.S. State Department issued a statement rejecting claims that officials did not publicly address the Saudi border killings.

“The United States has engaged senior Saudi officials a number of times on this over the course of the last year to express our concerns about the allegations and continues to urge that Saudi authorities undertake a thorough and transparent investigation,” a State Department spokesperson told Middle East Eye.

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