A massive wave of migrants arrived in the Florida Keys over the weekend, as some 500 people believed to be from Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean came ashore in what local officials described as a major “crisis.”
The arrivals forced authorities to close Dry Tortugas National Park, where some 300 migrants arrived over New Year’s and were met by first responders who did their best to provide aid, including food and water.
At about the same time, another 160 migrants landed by boat in other parts of the Florida Keys, officials said.
Then on Monday, two new groups of migrants that made up about 30 people were found in the Middle Keys.
Officials with Dry Tortugas National Park said the park would be closed to the public for “several days” while efforts are made to assist and process the migrants.
The national park, which is 70 miles west of Key West, is only accessible by boat or seaplane. It is made up of seven small islands.
“The closure, which is expected to last several days, is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff because of the resources and space needed to attend to the migrants,” park officials said in a statement.
“Like elsewhere in the Florida Keys, the park has recently seen an increase in people arriving by boat from Cuba and landing on the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park. Park first responders provide food, water and basic medical attention until the Department of Homeland Security arrives and takes the lead.”
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said in a Monday statement it was assisting federal authorities with a sharp increase of Cuban refugees since Saturday going into Monday. The office said it was told by US Border Patrol some migrant landings might have to wait for federal help until the next day causing the situation to get worse.
The office called it a “federal failure” that is leading to a “humanitarian crisis.”
“This shows a lack of a working plan by the federal government to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay.
He also noted in a statement, “Refugee arrivals require a lot of resources from the Sheriff’s Office as we help our federal law enforcement partners ensure the migrants are in good health and safe.”
Border Patrol and the Coast Guard have been dealing with the largest spike in migration by boat in South Florida and the Keys in almost a decade with hundreds of interceptions in recent months. Most of the people have been from Cuba and Haiti.
Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson, commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District and director of Homeland Security Task Force, said in a statement to ABC News his task force, the Coast Guard, and other federal, state and local officials are working to recover people stranded on Dry Tortugas National Park and the Marquesas.
The migrants will receive food and first aid before they are transferred to federal authorities in the Keys, he reportedly said.
“From there, they will be transported for processing by regional US Border Patrol stations to determine their legal status to remain in the United States or be processed for removal and repatriation to their country of origin,” McPherson told ABC News. “Irregular, illegal maritime migration is always dangerous and very often deadly. Do not take to the seas.”
With Post wires
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