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This video contains violent images and descriptions including people being shot at, and dead bodies. Viewer discretion advised.

Actor’s Voices have been used to protect the identity of the people Human Rights Watch interviewed for the film.

Audio recording, Actors’ Voice:

Even when I remember, I cry. I saw a guy calling for help, he lost both his legs. He was screaming and saying, “are you leaving me here? Please don’t leave me.” We couldn’t help him because we were running for our lives.


Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers have been tortured, injured or killed by Saudi Arabian border guards at the Yemen-Saudi border. At least hundreds have been killed trying to make this crossing between March 2022 and June 2023.

Audio recording, Actors’ Voice:

When Saudi border guards see a group, they fire continuously, when they kill everyone, they go down to collect all those who didn't die. This is what happened to me. I survived, and they came to meet me and showed me the dead. Then they took us to a detention center and beat us all there.


Human Rights Watch’s extensive investigation includes firsthand accounts from 42 people, and the verification and geolocation of over a hundred videos and photos and the analysis of hundreds of square kilometers of satellite imagery. We found evidence that Saudi border guards have used explosive weapons and shot people at close range.  In what appears to be a policy targeting migrants and asylum seekers, including women and children, at the border. Human Rights Watch believes this may amount to crimes against humanity. Saudi Arabia’s border forces should stop intentionally using lethal force, to kill Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers with explosive weapons.

Audio recording, Actors’ Voice:

It was during the night. We were traveling towards the Saudi border. Then we saw Saudi border guards. They told us to stop. While they walked towards us, they opened fire and fired bullets at us. One bullet hit a rock and hit my leg. My leg is broken around my knee.


While many migrate for economic reasons, including drought, a number of Ethiopians have fled because of serious human rights abuses by their government, including during the recent, brutal armed conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Audio recording, Actors’ Voice:

When the firing stopped the Saudi border guards took us. In my group there were seven people, five men and two girls. The border guards made us remove our clothes and told us to rape the girls. The girls were 15 years old. One of the men refused. The border guards killed him on the spot. I participated in the rape, yes. To survive I did it. The girls survived because they didn’t refuse. This happened at the same spot where the killings took place.


This dangerous migration route, often referred to as the 'Eastern route', spans from the horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden,

through Yemen and into Saudi Arabia. Migrants and asylum seekers

crossing into Saudi Arabia usually do so in the mountainous border area, aided by a network of smugglers and traffickers and facilitated by the Houthi forces

who control northern Yemen.

Audio recording, Actors’ Voice:

We walked in the mountains for about five days. We walked in groups, minimum 300 people, and most of the group was female. Then there was firing from the border guards, and they were firing big rocket launchers at us. It was like a bomb.  Of the 300 people, 150 died.


Smugglers operating in Yemen take people to two informal camps before attempting to cross the border. Al Thabit camp is located northwest of the border, and Al Raqw camp has only a river separating it from Saudi Arabia. Both camps act as holding areas with thousands of people preparing to cross the border.  Many interviewees said Houthi forces controlled the entry and exit into the camps and would often extort bribes from the

migrants or transfer them to detention centers. Migrants and asylum seekers often saw Saudi border guards patrolling the crossing points in large vehicles with what witnesses described as large objects mounted on the back of their vehicles, believed to be weapons. Human Rights Watch interviewed survivors who say they lost one or more limbs due to the use of explosive weapons or shootings at the border.

Audio recording, Actors’ Voice:

The Saudi border guards were firing big things like mortars at us. They fired from the back of a truck. We lost 130 people that day, the majority were women and children.


Although the number of deaths has not been confirmed, Human Rights Watch has identified at least eight burial sites near Al Raqw camp and has counted at least 287 graves on satellite images as of June 2023.  Many have described bodies being buried in remote areas or left unburied along the route. They describe a pattern of large scale violence and cross-border killings. This video was sent to and verified by Human Rights Watch. The video shows the bodies of at least two migrants hidden under bushes just north of the trail from Al Thabit camp in Saudi Arabia. A likely Saudi border guard post is visible approximately 1.3 kilometers away from where the bodies were found. 


Humanitarian assistance and safe passage should be provided to migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross the border from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, and those responsible for what may amount to crimes against humanity should be held accountable.

  • Saudi border guards have killed at least hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers who tried to cross the Yemen-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023.
  • Saudi officials are killing hundreds of women and children out of view of the rest of the world while they spend billions on sports-washing to try to improve their image.
  • Saudi Arabia should immediately and urgently revoke any policy to use lethal force on migrants and asylum seekers. Concerned countries should press for accountability and the UN should investigate.

(London) – Saudi border guards have killed at least hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers who tried to cross the Yemen-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. If committed as part of a Saudi government policy to murder migrants, these killings, which appear to continue, would be a crime against humanity.

The 73-page report, “‘They Fired on Us Like Rain’: Saudi Arabian Mass Killings of Ethiopian Migrants at the Yemen-Saudi Border,” found that Saudi border guards have used explosive weapons to kill many migrants and shot other migrants at close range, including many women and children, in a widespread and systematic pattern of attacks. In some instances, Saudi border guards asked migrants what limb to shoot, and then shot them at close range. Saudi border guards also fired explosive weapons at migrants who were attempting to flee back to Yemen.

“Saudi officials are killing hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers in this remote border area out of view of the rest of the world,” said Nadia Hardman, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Spending billions buying up professional golf, football clubs, and major entertainment events to improve the Saudi image should not deflect attention from these horrendous crimes.”

A video published on TikTok on December 4, 2022 shows a group of roughly 47 migrants, 37 of whom appear to be women, walking along a steep slope inside Saudia Arabia on the trail used to cross from the migrant camp of Al Thabit. © 2022 Private

Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 people, including 38 Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers who tried to cross the Yemen-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023, and 4 relatives or friends of those who tried to cross during that period. Human Rights Watch analyzed over 350 videos and photographs posted to social media or gathered from other sources, and several hundred square kilometers of satellite imagery.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Saudi and Houthi authorities. The Houthi authorities replied to our letter on August 19, 2023.

Approximately 750,000 Ethiopians live and work in Saudi Arabia. While many migrate for economic reasons, a number have fled because of serious human rights abuses in Ethiopia, including during the recent, brutal armed conflict in the north.

While Human Rights Watch has documented killings of migrants at the border with Yemen and Saudi Arabia since 2014, the killings appear to be a deliberate escalation in both the number and manner of targeted killings.

Migrants and asylum seekers said they crossed the Gulf of Aden in unseaworthy vessels, Yemeni smugglers then took them to Saada governorate, currently under the control of the Houthi armed group, on the Saudi border.

Many said Houthi forces worked with smugglers and would extort them or transfer them to what migrants described as detention centers, where people were abused until they could pay an “exit fee.”

3D model of likely Saudi border guard posts and patrol roads near fences identified with satellite imagery near the migration route from the migrant camp of Al Thabit in Saada Governorate, Yemen, into Saudi Arabia. Graphic © Human Rights Watch

Migrants in groups of up to 200 people would regularly try to cross the border into Saudi Arabia, often making multiple attempts after Saudi border guards pushed them back. Migrants said that their groups had more women than men and unaccompanied children. Human Rights Watch has identified Saudi border guard posts from satellite images that are consistent with these accounts. Human Rights Watch also identified what appears to be a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle positioned from October 10, 2021, to December 31, 2022, at one of the Saudi border guard posts. The vehicle appeared to have a heavy machine gun mounted in a turret on its roof.

People traveling in groups described being attacked by mortar projectiles and other explosive weapons from the direction of Saudi border guards once they had crossed the border. Those interviewed described 28 incidents with Saudi border guards using explosive weapons. Survivors said the Saudis sometimes held them in detention facilities, in some cases for months.

All described scenes of horror: women, men, and children’s bodies strewn across the mountainous landscape severely injured, already dead and dismembered. “First I was eating with people and then they were dying,” said one person. “There are some people who you cannot identify because their bodies are thrown everywhere. Some people were torn in half.”

A Human Rights Watch digital investigation of videos posted to social media or sent directly to Human Rights Watch and verified and geolocated show dead and wounded migrants on the trails, in camps, and in medical facilities. Geospatial analysis revealed growing burial sites near the migrant camps and expanding border security infrastructure.

Location of burial sites identified on satellite imagery close to Al Raqw migrant camp.  Image: February 9, 2022. © 2023 Maxar Technologies. Source Google Earth

Members of the Independent Forensic Expert Group of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, an international group of prominent forensic experts, analyzed verified videos and photographs showing injured or dead migrants to determine the causes of their wounds. They concluded that some injuries exhibited “clear patterns consistent with the explosion of munitions with capacity to produce heat and fragmentation,” while others have “characteristics consistent with gunshot wounds” and, in one instance, “burns are visible.”

People traveling in smaller groups or on their own said once they crossed the Yemen-Saudi border that Saudi border guards carrying rifles shot at them. People also described guards beating them with rocks and metal bars. Fourteen interviewees witnessed or were themselves wounded in shooting incidents at close range. Six were targeted both by explosive weapons and by shootings.

Some said Saudi border guards would descend from their border guard posts and beat survivors. A 17-year-old boy said border guards forced him and other survivors to rape two girl survivors after the guards had executed another migrant who refused to rape another survivor.

Saudi Arabia should immediately and urgently revoke any policy, whether explicit or de facto, to use lethal force on migrants and asylum seekers, including targeting them with explosive weapons and close-range shootings. The government should investigate and appropriately discipline or prosecute security personnel responsible for unlawful killings, wounding, and torture at the Yemen border.

Concerned governments should publicly call for Saudi Arabia to end any such policy and press for accountability. In the interim, concerned governments should impose sanctions on Saudi and Houthi officials credibly implicated in ongoing violations at the border.

A UN-backed investigation should be established to assess abuses against migrants and whether killings amount to crimes against humanity.

“Saudi border guards knew or should have known they were firing on unarmed civilians,” Hardman said. “If there is no justice for what appear to be serious crimes against Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers, it will only fuel further killings and abuses.”

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