Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia to Conduct Joint Investigation into Alleged Migrant Killings

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Ethiopia has announced that it will collaborate with Saudi Arabia to investigate allegations made in a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accusing the kingdom’s border guards of killing numerous Ethiopian migrants. The report has sparked international outrage, although the Saudi government has dismissed the claims as baseless.

In a statement released on X, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said, “The Government of Ethiopia will promptly investigate the incident in tandem with the Saudi Authorities. At this critical juncture, it is highly advised to exercise utmost restraint from making unnecessary speculations until the investigation is complete.” The ministry emphasized the longstanding and positive relations between Addis Ababa and Riyadh.

The HRW report highlights the increase in abuses along the dangerous migrant route from the Horn of Africa to Saudi Arabia, where hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians reside and work. Testimonies from Ethiopian migrants in the report depict the Saudi border guards opening fire on a group of migrants soon after their release from custody. One 20-year-old woman from Ethiopia’s Oromia region, who was interviewed by the rights monitor, recalled, “They fired on us like rain. When I remember, I cry.”

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) of the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of people undertake this perilous journey each year in the hopes of finding employment in the Gulf countries. The journey is fraught with life-threatening dangers such as starvation, dehydration, kidnapping, arrest, and forced recruitment into armed groups, particularly in war-torn Yemen. Yemen is one of the world’s poorest countries and has been engulfed in a humanitarian crisis due to an ongoing conflict between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi coalition-backed government.

A Saudi government source, speaking to AFP, dismissed the allegations made by HRW, stating, “The allegations included in the Human Rights Watch report about Saudi border guards shooting Ethiopians while they were crossing the Saudi-Yemeni border are unfounded and not based on reliable sources.”

Following the publication of the report, the United States, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, has called for a thorough investigation into the accusations. The European Union has also expressed concern and plans to raise the issue with both Riyadh and the Houthi rebels controlling parts of Yemen. The United Nations has emphasized the seriousness of the allegations while acknowledging the difficulties in verifying them. The French foreign ministry has likewise urged a transparent probe and demanded that Saudi Arabia respect international law and protect civilian populations in Yemen.

HRW has been documenting abuses against Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen for nearly a decade. The organization believes that the recent killings appear to be widespread and systematic, potentially amounting to crimes against humanity. In a previous report, UN experts raised concerns about allegations of cross-border shelling and small-arms fire by Saudi Arabia security forces, which reportedly resulted in the deaths of approximately 430 migrants in southern Saudi Arabia and northern Yemen in the first four months of 2022.

In response to the situation, the repatriation of Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia began in March of the same year under an agreement between the two countries. Ethiopia’s foreign ministry estimates that around 100,000 of its citizens will be repatriated over several months.

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