A report released today by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has shed light on the plight of Ethiopian migrants in northern Yemen who have been forcibly expelled in their thousands by Houthi forces under the pretext of COVID-19 measures.
Dozens are also believed to have been killed, with many fleeing to the Saudi border, only to be faced with shots fired at them by Saudi border guards, who killed several more. Hundreds of survivors are believed to have escaped to a mountainous border area, according to the report.
HRW heard that after some days without food or water, Saudi officials allowed hundreds to enter the kingdom but then arbitrarily detained them in "unsanitary and abusive facilities" with no means to legally challenge their detention. Hundreds of Ethiopian migrants, including children could still be stranded in the mountainous border region.
Based on interviews with 19 migrants in June and July, it was revealed to HRW that on or around 16 April, "Houthi fighters in green military uniforms", rounded up thousands of Ethiopians from an unofficial migrant settlement in Al-Ghar in the Saada province. They were then driven to the Saudi border, those who tried to flee were fired at. Witnesses said the Houthi fighters alleged that the migrants were "coronavirus carriers" and had to vacate Al-Ghar.
"The lethal disregard Houthi and Saudi forces have shown civilians during Yemen's armed conflict was replayed in April with Ethiopian migrants at the Yemen-Saudi border," said Nadia Hardman, HRW's refugee and migrant rights researcher.
"United Nations agencies need to step in to address the immediate threats to the Ethiopian migrants and press for accountability for those responsible for the killings and other abuses."
HRW has urged the Houthi authorities to investigate and bring to justice the commanders and fighters responsible for the killing and forcible expulsion against the Ethiopian migrants. It has also called on the Saudi government to carry out its own investigations into the unlawful firing on the migrants by border guards. It has also asked the Saudis to release children and pregnant and nursing women who are held at the detention centres.
"Hundreds if not thousands of Ethiopian migrants are now languishing in squalid detention centers in Saudi Arabia or remain stranded at the border," Hardman said. "The United Nations needs to work with the Saudis and Ethiopians to assist in the voluntary return of Ethiopians in detention or still stranded at the border."