Most Cuban Refugees Reach Florida Since 1980 Mariel Boat Lift
MIAMI (AP) _ More than 2,200 Cuban refugees crossed the Florida Straits in makeshift boats this year, more than in any year since the 1980 Mariel boat lift brought about 125,000 to the United States, the Coast Guard said Thursday.
The arrival of 50 Cubans on Wednesday and Thursday, most of whom were rescued at sea, brought to 2,205 the number arriving this year, the Coast Guard said. That broke last year’s post-boat-lift record of 2,203.
The refugees make the journey from Cuba to Florida on just about every type of craft imaginable, said Coast Guard spokesman Roger Wetherell.
″They navigate ... on homemade rafts made out of inner tubes, kayaks, canoes and sail boards,″ he said.
Shortages of food and gasoline, along with increased repression of dissidents, are responsible for the higher number of refugees, said Cuban-born Maggie Schuss, who helped found a group of south Florida pilots who search for refugees on rafts and contact the Coast Guard.
Four Cubans came ashore in the Florida Keys on Wednesday, and 26 rafters were rescued by a U.S. Navy ship and the Coast Guard.
Twelve more refugees, including a 5-year-old child and two 2-year-olds, were rescued southwest of Key West on the same day, the Coast Guard said.
On Thursday morning, a Coast Guard boat assisted eight Cubans who were picked up by a pleasure yacht off Bimini.