Ethiopia to investigate report of killings in Saudi Arabia

Ethiopian migrants use the migration route across the Gulf of Aden and through Yemen to get to Saudi Arabia. [Reuters]

Ethiopia vowed to launch a joint investigation with Saudi Arabian authorities into a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report accusing the kingdom's border guards of killing hundreds of Ethiopian migrants, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

"The Government of Ethiopia will promptly investigate the incident in tandem with the Saudi authorities," the ministry said on X, formerly known as Twitter, a day after the publication of the HRW report.

"At this critical juncture, it is highly advised to exercise utmost restraint from making unnecessary speculations until (the) investigation is complete," the ministry added, emphasizing the "excellent longstanding relations" between the two governments.

What did HRW say in its report?

In a 73-page report released on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused Saudi guards stationed on the border with Yemen of "widespread and systematic" attacks on migrants using remote mountain trails to cross the border on foot.

HRW said the guards used explosive weapons to kill some migrants and shot at others from close range.

"Saudi officials are killing hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers in this remote border area out of view of the rest of the world," HRW researcher Nadia Hardman said in a statement.

A Saudi official said on Monday that the allegations in the HRW report were "unfounded".

What was the world's reaction?

The European Commission said on Tuesday it would raise the report's findings with the Saudi government and the Houthi authorities in Yemen.

"We welcome the announcement by the government of Ethiopia specifically to investigate the whole issue together with the authorities in Saudi Arabia," spokesman Peter Stano told reporters.

The US government and the United Nations have also called for a thorough investigation. United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric called the report "very concerning" but noted the "serious" allegations were difficult to verify.

Last year, UN experts reported "concerning allegations" that "cross-border artillery shelling and small-arms fire by Saudi Arabia security forces killed approximately 430 migrants" in southern Saudi Arabia and northern Yemen during the first four months of 2022.

How do Ethiopians get to Saudi Arabia?

The migration route from the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden, through Yemen to Saudi Arabia is an established corridor for Ethiopian migrants.

Around 750,000 Ethiopians currently reside in the kingdom, according to 2022 statistics from the International Organization for Migration, with up to 450,000 likely to have entered the country without permits.

In March of that year, the repatriation of Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia began under an agreement between the two countries. Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry said about 100,000 of its citizens were expected to be sent home over several months.