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Ethiopia launching joint investigation with Saudi Arabia after report alleges hundreds of migrants killed by border guards

Ethiopia will 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 foreign ministry said Tuesday.

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

"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.

Ethiopian Migrants In Yemen 2020
Ethiopian migrants wait inside a building while undergoing quarantine as they cross Yemen's land to reach Saudi Arabia on April 05, 2020. Getty Images

The allegations, described as "unfounded" by a Saudi government source, point to a surge in abuses along the perilous route from the Horn of Africa to Saudi Arabia, where hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians live and work.

One 20-year-old woman from Ethiopia's Oromia region, interviewed by HRW, 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.

Washington, a long-time ally of Riyadh, urged "a thorough and transparent investigation" into the allegations, which were dismissed by a Saudi government source who spoke to AFP.

"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.

The European Union noted with "concern" the HRW allegations 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.

New York-based 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 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.

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