Around 500 migrants from Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean arrived in the Florida Keys this weekend, forcing a national park to close and forcing local officials to declare the situation a "crisis."
The migrants arrived in three separate waves at the Dry Tortugas National Park, an area made up of seven small islands located 70 miles west of Key West.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the local Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Monday that it was assisting federal authorities tasked with responding to the arrivals as a result of their lack of a "working plan."
"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. “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.”
The surge in illegal migration from Cuba comes as the communist dictatorship continues to experience a severe economic downturn in the wake of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic and its associated lockdowns, which decimated the island's already fragile tourist industry.
According to U.S.-based nonprofit The Center for Democracy in the Americas, a US-based nonprofit, 2022 saw the largest wave of Cuban migration in American history. From October 2021 to September 2022, US Customs and Border Protection recorded 224,607 "encounters" with Cuban migrants and refugees. This represents a significant increase of 471% from the previous fiscal year.