NEW YORK, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Armed men have boarded and attempted to disable boats carrying asylum seekers from Turkey to Greece, advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
The group, headquartered in New York, reported eight incidents in early October in which unidentified masked and armed men arrived in speedboats and intercepted small boats in the Aegean Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. The men allegedly damaged boat engines or fuel systems, and in the case of inflatable boats, attempted to puncture hulls.
Several boats were also towed back to Turkish waters, the group said.
Witnesses said the men wore black clothing with no insignia and had their faces covered. The attackers' affiliation has not been determined, but the incidents are part of a negative reaction to hundreds of thousands of people migrating from areas of conflict in the Middle East, notably Syria and Afghanistan.
The wave of migrants and refugees has overwhelmed parts of Europe in the past three years.
"At first when they approached, we thought they had come to help us, but by the way they acted, we realized they hadn't come to help. They were so aggressive. They didn't come on board our boat, but they took our boat's engine and then sped away. They spoke a language we didn't know, but it definitely was not Turkish, as we Afghans can understand a bit of Turkish," a witness and asylum seeker who HRW identified as Ali, 17, said.
Eva Cosse of Human Rights Watch commented, "Disabling boats in the Aegean makes an already dangerous journey even more likely to result in death. These criminal actions require an urgent response from the Greek authorities."