Human Rights Watch has sounded the alarm on Saudi Arabia in a comprehensive report titled “They Fired On Us Like Rain.” The report sheds light on a disturbing trend of violence, revealing that hundreds of Ethiopian migrants attempting to enter the Persian Gulf monarchy since 2022 have tragically lost their lives. These grave allegations are substantiated by in-depth interviews with 38 Ethiopian migrants who courageously attempted the border crossing, as well as compelling evidence including satellite imagery, videos, and photographs disseminated through social media and various other sources.
Saudi Arabia has denied these accusations, asserting that the information presented is inadequate and inaccurate.
U.N. experts have previously cautioned that “cross-border artillery fire and small arms fire by Saudi security forces have resulted in the deaths of approximately 430 migrants.” However, migrant interviews have brought to light disturbing scenes, where border guards inquire about “which part of their body they would prefer to be shot at.” Nadia Hardman, a migration specialist at Human Rights Watch, has accused Saudi Arabia of concealing these human rights violations through substantial investments in sports and entertainment, aiming to enhance its public image. She contends that the widespread and systematic killings of Ethiopian migrants amount to a crime against humanity.
Saudi Arabia serves as a destination for hundreds of thousands of migrants, who aspire to work in one of the wealthiest nations in the Arab world; however, these people confront increasingly stringent migrant deterrence policies upon arrival. Moreover, most migrants entering Saudi Arabia do so via its frontier with Yemen, a nation embroiled in an eight-year-long conflict. In the past year, Saudi Arabia, along with some of its Arab allies, initiated a bombing campaign aimed at ousting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, further exacerbating what has been deemed the most severe humanitarian crisis globally.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that over 200,000 individuals annually brave the perilous voyage across the Horn of Africa to Yemen, and subsequently, proceed to Saudi Arabia. These migrant routes have become embroiled in the ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Houthi rebels in Yemen, with the rebels collaborating with the people smugglers. Therefore, the migrants’ journey is a harrowing and protracted one, characterized by famine and violence at the hands of both Yemeni and Ethiopian smugglers. Tragically, many migrants are subjected to physical abuse or incarceration even before they can reach Saudi Arabia.
The international community should hold Saudi Arabia accountable for threatening human rights, and therefore, peace. The U.N. Human Rights Office has acknowledged receipt of reports regarding the military operations’ impact on migrants’ lives and has committed to conducting a thorough investigation. It is my fervent hope that this situation will be stopped – a hope shared by U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, who stated, “Using military force to deter migration is absolutely unacceptable.” Border security measures must not infringe upon human rights and no civilian, especially one in the process of fleeing, should become a target in any conflict.
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