DemocracyWatch: Saudis slaughter Ethiopian refugees at border

As a second wave mounts, migrants around the world are being persecuted.

26 August 2020, 7.00am
A refugee camp in Yemen
Peter Biro, EU

Saudi border guards killed dozens of Ethiopian refugees in April. But only now are details emerging.

As the pandemic struck in Yemen, Houthi groups forced thousands of Ethiopian migrants to the country’s northern border, claiming the virus as justification. They killed dozens in the process. 

As the survivors arrived at the border, Saudi guards killed dozens more. Others fled into the mountains, spending days without food or water. Hundreds were then allowed into Saudi Arabia, only to be detained in conditions that Human Rights Watch described as “appalling”. 

Around the world, the pandemic is being used to attack democracy, human rights and civil liberties – and, in some cases, human life itself. In this DemocracyWatch newsletter openDemocracy and SourceMaterial gather together cases from around the world. Please do share it with friends. Those with power across the world need to know they are being watched.

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Step forward

Chile Police are training dogs to identify people with coronavirus by smell

Step back 

Europe Countries right across Europe are seeing cases of COVID-19 grow, prompting fears that a second wave is under way.


UN agencies have warned that around 818 million children are at increased risk of being infected with COVID-19 when schools without handwashing facilities reopen. In 2019, 43% of schools worldwide had no facilities for basic handwashing with soap and water – more than a third of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Millions of women and girls have lost access to contraceptives and abortion services because of the coronavirus pandemic, Marie Stopes International has warned. The organisation expects an 900,000 more unintended pregnancies than usual worldwide, along with an extra 1.5 million unsafe abortions and an more than 3,000 additional maternal deaths.

Violence and harassment have “put health care workers in harm’s way at a time when they are needed the most”, according to the Red Cross as it highlighted 600 cases linked to the pandemic.

Conspiracy theories, fake cures and scapegoating have led to hundreds of deaths around the world during the pandemic, according to one report.


Sri Lanka More than 66,000 people have been arrested for violating curfew in a little over two months. A violent crackdown on dissent has intensified under the government's highly militarised response to the pandemic, including contact-tracing undertaken by intelligence agencies.

India 1.3 million women have lost access to contraceptives and abortion services because of the pandemic and the country’s abrupt months-long lockdown, according to a report by Marie Stopes International.

India Millions of migrant workers, forced to return to rural homelands for lockdown, have lost the meagre economic gains they had made due to enforcement of the caste system ‘back home’.

India/Kashmir One in five prisoners at the largest jail in Indian-administered Kashmir has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the authorities.

Thailand Since the imposition of an emergency decree on 26 March, officials have increasingly detained peaceful protestors, who also face intensifying harassment and intimidation by police officers.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has postponed the upcoming election by four weeks in response to a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

Tonga The Ministry of Communications has quietly issued new media regulations. Media groups said they undermine the constitution, which guarantees press freedom, and called it a strategic move to clamp down on independent reporting while flying the fake news flag.

Afghanistan COVID-19 has made the situation of the more than 4 million internally displaced people, many living in overcrowded camps, much worse.

Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia/Yemen In April, Houthi soldiers forcibly expelled thousands of Ethiopian migrants using the excuse of the pandemic. Houthis killed dozens of the Ethiopians, and Saudi border guards killed dozens more as they were forced to cross the border.

Morocco The pandemic is expected to throw a million Moroccans into poverty, a new report has found. 

Israel Communication minister Yoaz Hendel remonstrated with the public after stories emerged of people switching their cellphones to airplane mode or using prepaid ‘burner’ SIM cards to ensure they’d be missed by track-and-trace apps.


Kenya The Court of Appeal has ruled to not suspend laws restricting freedom of speech about the pandemic, despite an appeal filed by the Law Society of Kenya. 

Zimbabwe A court has barred human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from representing Hopewell Chin’ono, effectively stripping the journalist of his constitutional right to a lawyer of his choice. Chin’ono was arrested on 20 July for reporting on alleged COVID-19 procurement fraud within the country’s Ministry of Health.

Ghana A soldier has attacked journalists Stanley Nii Blewu and Joseph Armstrong Gold-Alorgbey while they were covering a local sanitation project. The soldier also confiscated the reporters’ camera and phones.

South Africa Tobacco firms have launched lawsuits against the government over its ban on the sale of tobacco products and alcohol during the lockdown.

South Africa Authorities are investigating government departments for irregularities in coronavirus-related tenders worth $290 million.

Senegal The offices of the newspaper Les Echos were vandalised by followers of the religious leader and politician Serigne Moustapha. The newspaper had reported that he had been hospitalised with the coronavirus.

Tanzania A new law prohibits citizens from speaking online about a recent earthquake that shook the country as well as about the pandemic. People face fines around $2,151 or twelve-month imprisonment under the regulations, which prohibit certain topics without government approval.

Angola Police have killed a 23-year-old while enforcing confinement measures.

Angola The president of the Angolan Network of AIDS Service Organisations has warned the fight against HIV/AIDS is experiencing great difficulties and an increase in cases as COVID-19 has diverted the government's attention.

Kenya Sexual abuse of women and girls is on the rise during the pandemic leading to a "an epidemic of pregnant girls".

Mali After months of protest over a worsening economy, disputed elections, alleged corruption and the arrival of the pandemic, a group of soldiers has overthrown the president


Bolivia and South America The government has backed the medical use of the bleaching agent chlorine dioxide as a coronavirus treatment. It is just one of several unproven and potentially dangerous treatments gaining ground in the region.

US President Trump has attacked without evidence the government agency that oversees the safety of vaccine development, claiming that members of the "deep state" at the agency are deliberately slowing progress so a vaccine would not be available until after the November elections.

Venezuela At least twelve health workers were detained for speaking out about the pandemic. According to Amnesty International, Venezuela is the only country in the region that has arrested health workers and brought them before military and civil tribunals.

Venezuela Washington has granted the Venezuelan opposition access to millions of dollars of frozen government funds to fight the pandemic.

Peru Thirteen people have been killed in a stampede at a nightclub in Lima during a police raid to enforce lockdown measures. At least six others were injured, including three police officers, as about 120 people tried to flee the party.

Argentina Protesters have brought parts of the capital Buenos Aires to a standstill by calling for an end to months of lockdown.


Germany Demonstrators at lockdown protests have repeatedly attacked and obstructed journalists covering the demonstrations.

Russia State censors have filed cases against the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta for reporting on COVID-19 outbreaks in Chechnya and the Russian army.

UK Contracts for COVID projects worth hundreds of millions of pounds have been handed out to firms without a proper tendering process, in what one MP has called “the biggest privatisation in National Health Service history”.

UK £18.9 billion of the government's bailout scheme have been distributed to companies that have engaged in fraud, corruption, environmental destruction, chemical weapons manufacturing and selling weapons to governments accused of human rights violations.

UK Illegal evictions and harassment have almost tripled in London's shadow rental market during the lockdown, according to new figures collated by charity Safer Renting.

UK Cramped conditions in some food production factories and in low-paid workers’ homes may have driven infection rates in the sector, a leading health expert has warned.

Italy Agricultural workers, mostly Sikhs from India, whose labour is vital to the country’s food production, face abuse and exploitation by agri-businesses and organised crime amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Greece The government has allegedly expelled at least 1,072 asylum seekers secretly from European borders in recent months, with many of them sailed to the edge of Greek territorial waters and then abandoned in sometimes overloaded life rafts.

Turkey The Radio and Television Supreme Council has fined TV channel KRT for featuring a guest who criticised the government’s COVID-19 response.

Turkey Authorities have allegedly floated proposals that would require its airlines to axe foreign pilots and cabin crew before dismissing local workers.

Climate and environment

Global Most of a major UN report on climate change and a guide to policymakers around the world are likely to be delayed beyond the UN climate summit due in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 because of the pandemic.

Brazil 2020 has seen another record-breaking year for burning of the Amazon as the global scrutiny of 2019 is diminished by the pandemic.

Indonesia Campaigners have accused the Green Climate Fund, a UN-backed programme intended to protect valuable forests, of letting governments game it. The criticism came as Indonesia was awarded $103 million even though the government is accused of engaging and promoting large-scale deforestation. Meanwhile a new Indonesian bill to restart the economy would axe several environmental protections, raising fears of further deforestation.

US Ahead of the November election, the drilling lobby has poured millions of dollars into Facebook and TV ads claiming natural gas is ‘climate friendly’ while scientists warn that the industry extracting the natural gas is a major threat to the planet.

Oman A lack of surveillance during the pandemic has led to an increase in the theft of turtle eggs, including those of species at risk of extinction.

Good news

Libya The warring governments of the eastern and western parts of the country have declared a ceasefire as cases of coronavirus surge

Singapore An increasingly common mutation of the novel coronavirus found in Europe, North America and parts of Asia may be more infectious but appears to be less deadly, according to a prominent infectious disease specialist.

Belarus Citizens continue to mobilise against ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, with rage against the president fuelled in part by his jokes about the pandemic.

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