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More than 1,300 refugees from Cuba, Haiti stopped at sea or removed from national park, Florida Keys since Dec. 30

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United States Coast Guard
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Special to WGCU
A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said all landed refugees were removed from Dry Tortugas National Park Wednesday in coordination with Homeland Security Task Force Southeast and the National Park Service.

The Homeland Security Task Force - Southeast  said they have stopped or removed more than 1,300 refugees at sea or from Dry Tortugas National Park and other areas of the Florida Keys since Dec. 30 and urged family members of Cubans and Haitians thinking of making their way to the U.S. to dissuade such efforts.

“Information released by the Task Force late Wednesday said between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2, it had interdicted/encountered:”

• 606 refugees at sea;
• 59 refugees on Marquesas;
• 364 refugees on Dry Tortugas National Park
• 326 refugees in Florida Keys;
• 27 refugees on Isla Monito b/t Dom. Rep. & Puerto Rico;
• 2 suspected refugees in the U.S. Virgin Islands;
• Prevented two Haitian refugees and sail freighter departures near the north coast of Haiti.

An Associated Press report termed the refugee's travels as a dangerous 100-mile trip in often rickety boats — unknown thousands having perished over the years — but more Cubans are taking the risk amid deepening and compounding political and economic crises at home. A smaller number of Haitians are also fleeing their country’s economic and political woes and arriving by boat in Florida.

“The refugees made their way to the park and other areas in the Keys from December 30 through Jan. 2, Lt. Cmdr. John William Beal, Public Affairs Officer for the Seventh Coast Guard District, said Thursday morning.”

Beal confirmed that all landed refugees were removed Wednesday evening from Dry Tortugas National Park in coordination with Homeland Security Task Force Southeast and the National Park Service.

"337 migrants removed from Dry Tortugas NP are onboard USCG Cutter Maple, a 225’ buoy tender, for transfer ashore to Key West (Thursday)," Beal said in a release to media.

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AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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Special to WGCU
Recently arrived refugees wait in a garage area of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Marathon Border Patrol Station, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Marathon, Fla. More than 500 Cuban refugees have come ashore in the Florida Keys since the weekend, the latest in a large and increasing number who are fleeing the communist island.

He said the refugees would be transported to US Border Patrol stations for processing.

"With the 90 removed earlier this week by USCG Cutter Richard Ethridge, a 154’ fast response cutter, who were already transferred to USBP agents’ custody at USCG Sector Key West, that makes the total (number) of migrants landed at Dry Tortugas National Park over the long weekend 427 migrants," Beal's release said.

A top Coast Guard official said USCG forces would continue to patrol for further refugees trying to make land in the U.S.

“The southeast maritime border is not open, and HSTF-SE urges the diaspora residing in southeast Florida to discourage family members in Cuba or Haiti from attempting the dangerous and very often deadly voyage across the Florida Straits,” Rear Adm. Brendan C. McPherson, director of HSTF-SE and commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District, said. “HSTF-SE units will continue to aggressively patrol the Florida Straits, Windward Pass, Mona Pass, and Caribbean Sea by air, land, and sea to save lives while preventing and deterring dangerous, irregular maritime migration. Do not take to the sea.”

The Associated Press reported that an unknown number have made it to land and will likely get to stay.

“I would prefer to die to reach my dream and help my family. The situation in Cuba is not very good,” Jeiler del Toro Diaz told The Miami Herald shortly after coming ashore Tuesday in Key Largo.

The Coast Guard's Beal said he has been inundated with calls, texts, and other social media contact about the refugees.

"I was receiving many (hundreds) calls/texts/WhatsApps over the past 48 hours from Cuban families within the US and outside the country looking for information about their loved ones, and it tied down a lot of time providing them with information on how to find out if their family members are alive and well," Beal said.

A recently arrived rustic boat sits on the shore, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Islamorada, Fla. More than 500 Cuban refugees have come ashore in the Florida Keys since the weekend, the latest in a large and increasing number who are fleeing the communist island.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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Special to WGCU
A recently arrived rustic boat sits on the shore, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Islamorada, Fla. More than 500 Cuban refugees have come ashore in the Florida Keys since the weekend, the latest in a large and increasing number who are fleeing the communist island. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Dry Tortugas National Park, a group of seven islands 70 miles (110 kilometers) west of Key West, remained closed to visitors Wednesday as the U.S. evacuated refugees who came ashore there earlier in the week. Normally, about 255 tourists a day arrive by boat and seaplane to tour the islands and Fort Jefferson, which was built 160 years ago. Officials did not know when it would reopen.

In Marathon, some 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of Key West, about two dozen refugees were being held in a fenced-in area outside a Customs and Border Protection station where tents had been erected to provide shade. When Associated Press journalists tried to speak with the migrants through the fence, Border Patrol employees told them to leave.

Ramón Raul Sanchez with the Cuban-American group Movimiento Democracia went to the Keys to check on the situation. He told the AP that he met a group of 22 Cubans who had just arrived. They were standing along the main road, waiting for U.S. authorities to pick them up. Sanchez and Keys officials said the Biden administration needs a more coordinated response.

Information from the Task Force said that, since August 2022, Task Force partners interdicted 7,784 refugees at sea and 4,401 landed refugees. In that number, as well, were 65 confirmed deaths in fiscal year 2022.

A statement from the Task Force said its primary objectives are to "prevent tragic loss of life at sea and to deter and dissuade maritime migration using a measured response by forces, reinforced by other required federal, state & local assets and capabilities based on trends and patterns and the OVS plan" which atrgets maritime migration in the Caribbean.

The Task Force said refugees it comes into contact with are screened by to determine their identity, potential criminal records, nationality and if they have a legal basis to remain in the United States. Those without a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed or repatriated.

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