Saudi border guards accused of Ethiopia migrant killings were US, Germany trained

Saudi border guards accused of Ethiopia migrant killings were US, Germany trained
Saudi border guards accused of killing migrants were reportedly trained by US and German forces.
2 min read
31 August, 2023
Saudi Arabia's border with Yemen is heavily guarded [Getty]

Saudi guards, who have been accused by a rights group of killing hundreds of Ethiopian migrants on the Yemen border, were trained by Germany and the US, according to reports.

Germany's federal police trained the guards between 2009 and 2020, with a brief break following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

US military funding for border force training took place between 2015 - when Riyadh intervened in the Yemen war - and July 2023, according to a report from The Guardian.

The border force is responsible for securing the Saudi border from Houthi rebel infiltrations and attacks but Human Rights Watch (HRW) allege that guards had also killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of Ethiopian refugees who had attempted to enter the kingdom.

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Riyadh has dismissed the claims as "unfounded" while Ethiopian authorities announced a joint probe with Saudi Arabia into the alleged killings.

German and US agencies training efforts ran alongside Saudi Arabia's strengthening of its border surveillance which should have better enabled guards to distinguish between fighters and civilians during infiltration attempts.

This infrastructure included CCTV, thermal imaging, and ground motion sensors some of which were monitored remotely from Riyadh, according to The Guardian.

The HRW report said that Saudi Arabia border guards used machine guns and mortars on Ethiopians trying to cross into the kingdom, with thousands living in refugees camps on the Yemen border having fled fighting and abject poverty at home.

It is still unclear which force might be responsible for the deaths, with Riyadh reportedly operating a mercenary force on the frontier along with regular border guards.


Eleonora Ardemagni, from the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), said border policy has become increasingly under the responsibility of the Saudi interior ministry, which operates the Al-Afwaj regiment.

"This militarisation of the border comes at a time when the border issue has come to be seen by Saudi Arabia as a key national security issue," Ardemagni told the British daily.

"It is part of Riyadh’s understanding that the border issue will be more and more decisive in the way it manages not just the Yemeni dossier but in terms of economic security. They want to secure the border as a first priority and only then see if the Yemen parties can come to a durable ceasefire."

Saudi Arabia intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015, six months after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels captured the capital Sanaa, forcing the government to flee south.

Riyadh has been accused of a number of rights abuses during the war, including the killing of civilians in air strikes.