More than 300 Haitian migrants arrived in an overloaded boat off the Florida Keys

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A group of more than 300 Haitian migrants arrived offshore from the Florida Keys Saturday afternoon, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol.

Their overloaded sailboat boat was grounded off shore of the gated community of Ocean Reef, the Coast Guard said. About 200 people remained on the vessel, and 113 jumped in the shallow water and made it to shore, said Adam Hoffner, division chief for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Miami operations.

The people who remained on the boat were placed on a Coast Guard cutter. Most of the people will likely be sent back to Haiti.

Photos provided to the Miami Herald show people from the boat sitting on the grounds of the exclusive resort wrapped in towels and being provided with bottled water.

The Coast Guard said several of the people from the group who went into the water did not have life jackets and had to be rescued.

Several people from a Haitian migrant boat jump in the water off the Ocean Reef community in north Key Largo Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. They were part of a large migrant group of between 100 and 200 people who arrived in an overloaded sailboat.
Several people from a Haitian migrant boat jump in the water off the Ocean Reef community in north Key Largo Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. They were part of a large migrant group of between 100 and 200 people who arrived in an overloaded sailboat.

The people who came to shore are being taken to a Border Patrol detention center in Dania Beach, Hoffner said.

Two people aboard the boat were identified as suspected smugglers and arrested, said Hoffner. Medics took three people to local hospitals to be treated for dehydration, he said.

The area off the shore of northern Key Largo has been a frequent destination of Haitian migrants since November. Several landings have happened in almost that exact spot, and slightly farther south off a remote two-lane highway called Card Sound Road.

The group Saturday included people of all ages, including seniors, young children and infants, a law enforcement source said.

The arrival comes as the Coast Guard and Border Patrol have been dealing with a rampant increase in Cuban migrants in various locations throughout the Keys this week.

Two dead in water off the Florida Keys, and Coast Guard searching for more people

Between Thursday and Saturday, the Border Patrol took into custody 263 people, including the Haitian migrants, from a total of 16 landings, Hoffner said.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer watches over migrants on the grounds of the Ocean Reef gated community in north Key Largo Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.
A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer watches over migrants on the grounds of the Ocean Reef gated community in north Key Largo Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

The situation also happened as the Coast Guard continued its search for five people from Cuba who went missing when a migrant boat with 15 on board capsized off the Lower Keys island of Sugarloaf Key on Friday.

A migrant boat sits grounded off shore of the gated Ocean Reef community in north Key Largo Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.
A migrant boat sits grounded off shore of the gated Ocean Reef community in north Key Largo Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Two people from that voyage were found dead in the ocean, and eight people were rescued, according to the Coast Guard.

Ocean Reef is also the scene of one of the largest arrivals of Haitian migrants in decades, when 356 people, also on an overloaded boat, ran aground just off shore of the exclusive community.

The community — where celebrities and dignitaries often stay when they visit South Florida — is also not far from Boca Chita Key, a small Upper Keys island situated in Biscayne National Park, where more than 150 Haitian migrants were stopped by the Coast Guard in a packed sailboat July 24.

Haiti is experiencing its largest maritime exodus since 2004 due to deteriorating safety, political and economic conditions. Gang violence in particular is being cited by refugee advocates as a major contributor in prompting people to flee despite the treacherous journey that lies ahead at sea.

Since the beginning of October, the Coast Guard has stopped more than 6,534 people at sea trying to reach the United States.

“Because of the extremely dire situation in Haiti, for many the only option for potential survival is risking their lives at sea. “In the past three weeks alone, people very close to our team have been kidnapped or barely escaped gang violence, even in the countryside where we thought it was more or less safer than Port au Prince,” said Guerline Jozef, co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. “We at the Haitian Bridge Alliance and many other human rights groups are calling on President Biden to provide refuge [for the people taken into Border Patrol custody].”

Miami Herald Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.