Cuban refugees in makeshift boat land in Florida Keys, are greeted with hugs
An unusally large group of Cuban migrants landed in the Keys this week at Marquesas Keys, about 20 miles west of Key West.
The group of 41 — 30 men, 10 women and a minor — landed Tuesday. They claimed to have departed from Cojímar, east of Havana, on Monday aboard a single engine fishing vessel that was not recoverable, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).
All the migrants were in good health and were transferred to the CBP Station in Marathon, where they were processed and turned over to Church World Services, CBP said in a statement.
On Tuesday, CBP agents were notified by the U.S. Coast Guard “of a maritime smuggling event involving forty-one Cuban nationals ... that made landfall at Marquesas Keys, Florida,” the statement said.
According to a report by Spanish-language channel Telemundo 51, Cuban fisherman Omar Pérez was the first one to spot the migrants and contacted the authorities.
A video recorded with a cell phone shows the group of Cubans on the edge of a mangrove, while asking “Llamen a Telemundo” (call Telemundo).
Pérez said that the boat where the Cubans traveled apparently was stranded near the coastline and they just jumped into the water and swam to shore, Telemundo reported.
Although the landings of Cuban rafters in South Florida are not unusual, what is striking in this case is the large size of the group.
Since the reestablishment of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, there has been an increase in attempts by Cuban migrants to reach South Florida, according to the Coast Guard. Nearly 3,000 Cubans attempted to leave the island by sea between October 2015 and April of this year.
Another group of nine rafters, eight adults and one minor, also arrived in Florida on Tuesday from Cárdenas, in the province of Matanzas, after spending seven days at sea. A video recorded with a cell phone captured the moment when the makeshift boat with a sail and three rows made landfall and the rafters jumped ashore screaming, hugging and crying.
According to several reports, there were initially about 25 people in the group, but they split up after reaching an undisclosed part of the Keys. As of Wednesday, the whereabouts of the other 16 migrants were unknown and some suggested they could have returned to Cuba.
According to statements made by the nine migrants to Telemundo 51, during the seven-day journey through the Florida Straits, they were flogged by inclement weather and sometimes even thought they would not make it.
In a separate landing, nine Cubans arrived on Craig Key Monday morning in a steel-hulled vessel powered by what appeared to be a six-cylinder Ford gasoline engine, Islamorada resident Carmen Alex told FLKeysNews.com.
The migrants who landed on Craig Key, mile marker 73.5, said theirs was a nine-day journey at sea, according to Alex. Hoffner said the group included eight men and one woman. Witnesses provided them with water and cash, Alex told FLKeywsNews.com.
On Sunday, two groups of Cubans, 23 in all, arrived in the Keys. Eight arrived in Key Largo, and 15 arrived on Windley Key, FLKeysNews reported.
In the first 11 months of fiscal year 2016 more than 50,000 Cubans have arrived in the U.S., a 25 percent increase over the previous year. However, most of them entered the country across the southern Mexican border.
Cubans who touch American soil can usually stay under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, while those who are intercepted at sea are usually returned to Cuba.
Abel Fernández is on Twitter @abelfglez