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Saudi Guards Using Explosives, Gunfire In Mass Killing Of Migrants Attempting To Cross Border

In one series of crossings with 1,630 migrants, only 281 survived

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have reportedly been resorting to lethal force to stop the flow of migrants illegally entering the country.

Hundreds of Ethiopian migrants who tried to cross the Yemen-Saudi border were killed by Saudi border guards between March 2022 and June 2023, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The organization interviewed 42 Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers (or their friends and relatives) who tried to cross the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. HRW also analyzed 350 photos and videos, as well as satellite imagery, which showed dead and wounded migrants on trails, in camps and in medical facilities.

“Saudi border guards have used explosive weapons and shot people at close range, including women and children, in a pattern that is widespread and systematic,” the report states.

“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 continues. “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.

An estimated 750,000 Ethiopians live and work in Saudi Arabia. Many have fled for economic reasons, but a number are fleeing human rights abuses by their government committed during a recent brutal armed conflict in the country.

Tigray, a northern region of Ethiopia, is at the center of a conflict involving regional militias, the federal government, and the Eritrean military.

The violence has resulted in the government declaring a six-month-long state of emergency, night-time curfews, check points, and Israel evacuating its citizens from the region two weeks ago.

A recent explosion left at least 26 people dead and 50 others injured during heavy fighting between government forces and a local militia group in northwestern Ethiopia.

Ethiopians have been relying on Yemeni human smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden, frequently using unseaworthy boats that are overcrowded and have limited food and water, HRW reports.

Migrants are often extorted for bribes or are transferred into detention centers where they are abused until they are able to pay an exit fee.

“Interviewees said that the camps in Saada contained tens of thousands of migrants waiting their turn to cross the border into Saudi Arabia,” the report says. “Men, women, and children regularly make crossing attempts in groups of up to 200 people,” though in large groups, the women outnumber the men.

People unable to pay the smuggler fees are often forced to lead the group, making them the most likely to be injured or killed by explosives or gunfire.

HRW is calling on governments around the world to pressure Saudia Arabia to end policies targeting migrants with deadly attacks, while also demanding accountability for any officials implicated in the mass killings of migrants and asylum seekers.

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