What You Need to Know:
The human rights advocacy NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Saudi Arabian border forces of killing “at least hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers who tried to cross the Yemen-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023.”
A 73 page report by HRW asserts that “Saudi border guards have used explosive weapons to kill many migrants and shot other migrants at close range, including many women and children, in a widespread and systematic pattern of attacks.”
The investigation centered around two main migrant camps in the Saada governorate of northern Yemen; Al Thabit and Al Raqw. Based on interviews with migrants, groups that ranged from a few dozen to over 1,000 people regularly attempted to crossing into Saudi Arabia from Yemen and were often met with Saudi small arms fire or artillery shelling, which HRW cited the United Nations as being “a systematic pattern of large-scale indiscriminate cross-border killings.”
The investigation noted the shift “apparent practice of occasional shootings and mass detentions” documented in 2014 to the “widespread and systematic killings documented by UN Experts in 2022… indicates that the abuses may qualify as crimes against humanity, if there is now a Saudi state policy of murder of civilian migrants.”
The investigation focused on the apparent use of mortar projectiles and other explosive weapons, which HRW has “confirmed… some of these cases by corroborating witness evidence with pathological analysis of photographic evidence from interviewees showing wounds consistent with blast trauma.”
Interviewees would describe attacks from Saudi border forces that would leave “women, men, and children strewn across the mountainous landscape severely injured, dismembered, or already dead.” After the attacks, “survivors were often then approached by Saudi border guards and detained, sometimes for months, by Saudi authorities in Saudi detention facilities.”
Saudi border forces have also been accused of shooting migrants at close range once captured.
Calculating Death Tolls:
HRW stated that it was unable to confirm an exact number of deaths, stating that it gathered information from visual evidence and statements from interviewees that “estimated how many were killed by subtracting the number of people who ultimately returned to the migrant camps and villages along the border or in hospitals in Saada from the total number in the group that tried to cross the border at the outset.”
Human Rights Watch also noted that “some migrants may have returned without interviewees being aware of them doing so; some may have sought medical assistance without other survivors knowing; others may have managed to pass Saudi border guard patrols and get inside Saudi Arabia.”
With this, however, migrants that were interviewed recalled personally seeing hundreds of migrants being killed in failed border crossing attempts or saw hundreds of dead bodies in later attempts to retrieve remains.
Estimates were also established by analyzing satellite imagery of burial sites in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, which account for at least 287 graves in total.
Accusations of Crimes Against Humanity:
HRW concluded its report by accusing Saudi Arabia of unlawful killings, excessive use of force, torture, and internal crimes against humanity, further calling on Saudi Arabia to “immediately and urgently revoke any policy, whether explicit or de facto, targeting migrants with explosive weapons and close-range attacks on civilian migrants on the border with Yemen.”