US knew of Saudis’ persecution of African migrants but kept silent – NYT

Washington has also opted not to publicly raise reports of widespread abuse and indiscriminate killings

The US government has for long been aware of the alleged mistreatment African migrants have been systematically subjected to at the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, but has kept the issue out of the public arena, the New York Times has reported.

The alleged widespread abuse of migrants, primarily hailing from Ethiopia through the so-called ‘Eastern Route,’ which lies across war-ravaged Yemen, became known to US diplomats at least as early as last December, the newspaper claimed on Saturday. Washington, however, opted to keep silent on the matter, in an apparent effort not to strain its ties with Riyadh any further.

The US State Department contacted the newspaper, offering its take on the situation and somewhat corroborating the claims that the decision to keep the issue private had indeed been taken.

“The United States quickly engaged senior Saudi officials to express our concern,” the department told the NYT, adding that US officials “have continued to regularly raise our concerns with Saudi contacts.” It was not immediately clear whether the cited contacts had any effect or somehow impacted the migrant situation on the Saudi-Yemeni border, the newspaper noted.

The allegations of inaction by Washington come in the wake of a fresh report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), released on August 21. The research claims, citing surviving witnesses, that Saudi border guards have killed “at least hundreds” of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross the border from Yemen between March 2022 and June 2023.

The killings at the border apparently continued even later, at the time when the report was being prepared, the HRW noted. “Saudi border guards have used explosive weapons and shot people at close range, including women and children, in a pattern that is widespread and systematic,” the report reads. In some instances, the border guards tortured their victims, asking detained migrants “in which limb of their body they preferred to be shot,” as well as firing artillery pieces at migrants who were trying to flee back into Yemen.

While it was not immediately clear whether the killings were carried out by the border guards on their own or sanctioned by their higher-ups, the behavior amounts to “crimes against humanity” if it is actually a part of Saudi state-sanctioned policy, the humanitarian group noted.

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