Ethiopia said Tuesday it would launch a joint investigation with Saudi Arabia into a Human Rights Watch report accusing the kingdom’s border guards of killing hundreds of Ethiopian migrants.
The report sparked global outrage after its publication on Monday, although a Saudi government source dismissed the allegations as “unfounded.”
“The Government of Ethiopia will promptly investigate the incident in tandem with the Saudi Authorities,” the foreign ministry said on X, formerly Twitter.
“At this critical juncture, it is highly advised to exercise utmost restraint from making unnecessary speculations until (the) investigation is complete,” the ministry said, noting the “excellent longstanding relations” between Addis Ababa and Riyadh.
The report points to a surge in abuses along the perilous migrant route from the Horn of Africa to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, where hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians live and work.
One 20-year-old woman from Ethiopia’s Oromia region, interviewed by the US-based rights monitor, said Saudi border guards opened fire on a group of migrants they had just released from custody.
“They fired on us like rain. When I remember, I cry,” she said.
The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) says hundreds of thousands of people each year take the so-called eastern route from Africa in the hope of working in the wealthy Gulf countries.
The travellers face “life-threatening dangers,” including starvation, dehydration, kidnapping and arrest, or being forced to join warring groups, particularly in Yemen, it says.
One of the world’s poorest countries, Yemen is in the grip of a deep humanitarian crisis after eight years of war pitting Iran-backed Huthi rebels against the Saudi coalition-backed government.
The Saudi government source who spoke to AFP rejected the HRW accusations.
“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,” said the source, who requested anonymity.
– US call for probe –
Washington, a long-time ally of Riyadh, urged “a thorough and transparent investigation” into the accusations.
The European Union noted with “concern” the HRW claims and plans to raise them with Riyadh and with the Huthi rebels who control strategic parts of Yemen, a spokesman, Peter Stano, said Tuesday.
“We welcome the announcement by the government of Ethiopia, specifically, to investigate the whole issue together with the authorities in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric called the report “very concerning” but noted the “serious” allegations were difficult to verify.
The French foreign ministry also urged a transparent probe and said it was raising the issue of human rights in Yemen and Saudi Arabia with the Saudi authorities, calling on them to “respect international law and protect civilian populations”.
HRW has documented abuses against Ethiopian migrants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen for nearly a decade.
But it said the latest killings appear to be “widespread and systematic” and may amount to crimes against humanity.
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.
In March of that year, 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.
Originally published as Ethiopia unveils joint Saudi probe into alleged migrant killings