AFPSaudian soldiers at a military parade, archive photo
NOS News•today, 10:34•Edited today, 10:37
Between March 2022 and June this year, Saudi border guards killed at least hundreds of migrants, Human Rights Watch (HRW) writes in a report. According to the human rights organization, a pattern is emerging of systematic attacks on African migrants who try to cross the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in search of work.
The report is based on satellite images and conversations with survivors. They say that Saudi soldiers use explosives and shoot men, women and children at close range. It also describes how survivors are beaten or forced to rape. The gruesome testimonies are in line with previous reports of shootings against migrants.
Saudi Arabia has not yet responded to the report. If the shelling is official policy of the Saudi regime, HRW says it constitutes crimes against humanity.
‘Clean up image’
“The billions spent on professional golf, football clubs and major entertainment events to polish Saudi Arabia’s image should not divert attention from these appalling crimes,” said one researcher.
The victims are mainly Ethiopians, who in large numbers venture across to Yemen, stricken by civil war. They go to Saudi Arabia in search of work, but the border is a war zone. Currently, some 750,000 Ethiopians live and work in Saudi Arabia, HRW writes.
The route from Ethiopia to Saudi Arabia is full of dangers, Nieuwsuur reported two weeks ago:
“We make it or we die”
The Saudi government only wants to admit regulated migrants. A visa is then arranged in advance in the country of origin, so that someone can come to the kingdom by plane. Illegal migration is discouraged by deporting people without valid papers.
Despite this, migrants continue to come to Saudi Arabia via Yemen. Last year, more than 200,000 people crossed from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, according to figures from the UN migration organization IOM. The journey across the sea is dangerous. Just last week, 24 people went missing when a ship carrying migrants sank off the coast of Djibouti, the BBC writes.
The report also describes exploitation of migrants by Houthi rebels. According to the interviewees, this Yemeni militia works together with people smugglers. The migrants said they were extorted or transferred to detention centers. They were not allowed to leave until they paid an amount.
If they then managed to cross the border, the migrants said they ended up in Saudi detention centers, where they were sometimes held for months.
In the vicinity of such detention centers, HRW researchers saw expanding cemeteries on satellite images. Bodies of victims were also spotted along the migration route, the report said. For the study, 42 migrants were interviewed.
Middle East Correspondent Daisy Mohr:
“The attraction of wealthy Saudi Arabia is enormous. These people think they can find a good job there, their motivation is poverty. In addition to Ethiopians, they also include people from Somalia or Eritrea, for example. They travel to Djibouti and sail on an overcrowded boat to the south of Yemen, from where they walk hundreds of kilometers north.
I saw that when I was in Yemen: people walking alone or in groups, usually with nothing or just a plastic bag. They must first pass through government territory and then through Houthi territory. The people smugglers are often Ethiopians themselves who promise the migrants everything. But the journey is almost impossible. You read terrible stories about people who tried.
I wonder if there will be a reaction from Riyadh to this report. Perhaps the Saudi authorities will dismiss it as yet another attack by human rights groups, saying that for security reasons it is important to secure the borders to prevent Houthis or extremist groups from entering the country.”