DORAL, FLA. (WSVN) - Two groups of Cuban migrants reached South Florida shores after nearly two weeks at sea, bringing their journey to freedom to an emotional end in front of dozens of beachgoers.
Officials said nine men and one woman came ashore in Hollywood, Saturday afternoon. Fish and Wildlife, Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies, the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Hollywood Police responded to the scene between John Lloyd State Park and the Dania Beach Pier.
Cellphone video captured the migrants jumping out of their 10-foot wooden rowboat and setting foot on American soil as onlookers cheered them on. Some of them were seen kissing the sand.
Nearly 100 beachgoers witnessed the migrants’ arrival. “This is crazy, this is amazing, like, they actually made it all the way to the shore,” said witness Courtney Chipman.
A video posted on Instagram showed the group on the water, earlier on Saturday.
Witness Nora Wolf marveled at the migrants’ resilience and determination. “I think it’s amazing that these guys came across the ocean, from Cuba, in a rowboat, and made it to land,” she said.
However, the landing led to tense moments that were also caught on camera. Moments after the migrants arrived on the beach, police officers were seen detaining them. In the video, a witness is heard saying, “Let them go.”
Officials said they had tried and failed to intercept the tiny boat. “What I understand, every time law enforcement tried to approach and get near them, they were threatening [to hurt] themselves,” said FWC Officer Tyson Matthew. “There were knives on board and several weapons.”
Cuban refugee Anichel Morales told 7News he would rather die out at sea than go back to Cuba. He also confessed that he tried hurting himself in order to avoid officials sending him back to the island.
Witness Tammy Perez witnessed the migrants’ confrontation with authorities. “They had some machetes, apparently, and they were threatening to kill themselves or something,” she said. “They wanted to get ashore, obviously.”
Officials said the migrants feared getting sent back, and one man was tased by a Hollywood Police officer who believed he posed a threat.
One migrant stabbed himself in the abdomen. He was transported to Broward Health Medical Center as a trauma alert.
The others walked in handcuffs from the beach to ambulances and were taken to Memorial Regional Hospital to be checked out. “They just look like they’re exhausted,” said Matthew. “They’ve been in the sun.”
The migrants who arrived in Hollywood were actually the second group that came ashore. Another group touched U.S. soil on Key Biscayne, Saturday morning. An onlooker captured their green boat on cellphone video.
One of those migrants, Yoel Diaz-Hernandez, spoke to 7News in Doral outside Church World Service. “I left my wife and my 1-year-old child to work, and that’s it,” he said through as translator.
The man said he was looking for his brother-in-law, who he claims was in the boat that had arrived in Hollywood. He’d have to wait to be reunited.
Leo Martinez, a Cuban man in the Czech Republic, told 7News he believes one of the men who came ashore in Hollywood is his brother. “I saw the video online where I can see his physique. I am sure that’s my brother,” he said in Spanish while speaking on the phone.
Some of the refugees arrived in Doral, Monday morning, at Church World Service, a refugee program.
“I feel good for them, you know?” said a beachgoer in Hollywood. “They traveled so long to get here so, I mean, they deserve it.”
The migrants have since been released from the hospital and are recieving help from at least two Doral refugee programs.
Officials told 7News the migrants will be able to stay after being released from the hospital and processed by U.S. Customs.
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