In a shocking revelation, a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), released on Monday, exposed a horrifying series of events occurring between March 2022 and June 2023. During this period, Saudi border guards reportedly took the lives of numerous Ethiopian migrants who were attempting to make the perilous journey across the Yemeni border into the oil-rich kingdom. This distressing report surfaces at a time when Saudi Arabia is actively pursuing an anti-migrant agenda domestically, coupled with a concerted effort to improve its international image.
The mountainous expanse surrounding Sadaa, a gritty northern Yemeni city located in close proximity to the Saudi border, has tragically transformed into a deadly trap, as corroborated by various human rights organizations. Satellite images and social media posts from the border have offered grim evidence, showcasing the lifeless bodies of migrants, predominantly hailing from Ethiopia. These harrowing visual accounts stand as a damning testament to the relentless abuses outlined in the latest HRW report, based in New York.
Titled “They Fired on Us Like Rain,” this HRW report, unveiled on Monday, August 21, meticulously documents the widespread atrocities reportedly committed along the Yemen-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023.
The report asserts that Saudi border guards have employed explosive weaponry and have fired upon individuals at point-blank range, including women and children. Such actions appear to constitute a distressingly pervasive and systematic pattern. If these heinous acts are indeed sanctioned by the Saudi government as a deliberate strategy to eliminate migrants, they would unequivocally qualify as a crime against humanity, as affirmed by the report.
Over recent months, disturbing accounts of severe transgressions along the migratory route, often referred to as the Eastern Route or the Yemeni Route, have continued to surface. This perilous passage commences in the Horn of Africa, spans the Gulf of Aden, traverses Yemen, and eventually leads into Saudi Arabia.
A report dated July 5, authored by the Mixed Migration Centre, an independent data institution associated with the Danish Refugee Council, paints a bleak picture. It alleges that Ethiopians are being systematically targeted and killed by individuals operating under the authority of the Saudi Arabian state.
Highlighting these grave concerns, the United Nations published communications from special rapporteurs and working groups in October 2022. These reports underscored the cross-border killings carried out through the use of artillery shelling and small arms by Saudi security forces. According to the communiqué, a staggering total of nearly 430 individuals lost their lives between January 1 and April 30, 2022.
The latest HRW report further amplifies these concerns, presenting firsthand accounts from Ethiopian migrants who dared to undertake the treacherous journey from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.
More on Saudi Border Guards’ ‘Saudization’
Saudi Arabia currently plays host to an estimated 750,000 Ethiopian nationals, as reported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Shockingly, approximately 500,000 of them entered the country without legal authorization, thus compelling them to remain in hiding, constantly evading Saudi authorities.
Historically, this affluent Gulf nation has attracted impoverished migrants from the region, particularly Yemen, which shares an extensive 1,300-kilometer border with Saudi Arabia. Non-Saudi nationals constitute over 30 percent of the kingdom’s population.
However, in 2017, Riyadh initiated a sweeping “Saudization” policy with the primary goal of reducing its reliance on migrant labor. The implementation of this policy led to heightened police crackdowns, mass detentions of illegal migrants, and large-scale deportation campaigns.
Riyadh’s “Saudization” drive unfolded against the backdrop of ongoing conflicts in neighboring Yemen and the Horn of Africa, effectively turning vulnerable migrants into pawns in regional power struggles.