The Biden administration wants to know if Saudi Arabia used American weapons to kill 'hundreds' of migrants

Biden walking among Saudi officials in head coverings
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One before departing from King Abdulaziz International Airport in the Saudi city of Jeddah on July 16, 2022.MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
  • The United States is investigating a report that Saudi Arabia killed "hundreds" of migrants.

  • Human Rights Watch said border guards in Saudi Arabia killed scores of migrants in Yemen.

  • The Biden administration is investigating whether US weapons were used in the reported attacks.

The Biden administration is demanding answers following a report that Saudi authorities may have killed hundreds of migrants in Yemen, possibly with arms provided by the United States, according to The Washington Post.

Last month, Human Rights Watch issued a report alleging that, between March 2022 and June 2023, Saudi border guards killed "at least hundreds" of Ethiopian migrants who were trying to cross into the country from neighboring Yemen.  The attacks included the use of explosive weapons and execution-style killings of people who had just been released from detention in Saudi Arabia itself, the group charged.

Bill Frelick, director of HRW's refugee and migrant rights division, said he was "shocked and horrified" by the allegations, which he described as among the worst he's seen in more than 30 years.

"For months, if not longer, Saudi border guards have been systematically shooting and shelling Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross from Yemen along the remote, inaccessible border that divides the two countries," Frelick wrote in a piece published Friday by The Hill. "These migrants include large numbers of women and children. They are unarmed. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been killed."

In the report, HRW cited eyewitnesses who reported migrants being struck by mortar fire as they approached the Saudi border. One person said that an attack on a group of 170 migrants left more than half of them dead, according to HRW, appearing to reflect a conscious decision to discourage migration through targeted killings — and raising the prospect that there is a "state policy of deliberate murder of a civilian population."

Saudi Arabia has denied the allegation. But according to The Washington Post, rumors of the killings had been circulating among diplomats "for more than a year" prior to the HRW report. Michal Ratney, US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, discussed the allegations last month — ahead of the report's release — and US officials are now trying to determine whether the units accused received training or weapons from Washington.

Ethiopia has also said it is investigating the allegations, "in tandem with the Saudi authorities," per the Associated Press.

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