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Migrant influx from Cuba forces Florida national park to close

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The remote Dry Tortugas National Park, known for its historic Fort Jefferson, pictured in 2016, sits almost 70 miles (110 kilometers) west of Florida's southernmost city of Key West, and is just over 100 miles north of the Cuban capital Havana./AFP
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Jan 03, 2023 - 09:17 AM

WASHINGTON — Dry Tortugas National Park, a group of islands west of Florida, will remain closed until further notice due to a growing number of boats arriving from Cuba, US authorities announced Monday.

The remote park, known for its historic Fort Jefferson, sits almost 70 miles (110 kilometers) west of Florida’s southernmost city of Key West, and is just over 100 miles north of the Cuban capital Havana.

The park “will temporarily close to public access while law enforcement and medical personnel evaluate, provide care for and coordinate transport to Key West for approximately 300 migrants who arrived in the park over the past couple of days,” the US National Park Service 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,” the statement added.

Cuba, which is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the 1990s, has seen a record number of its residents fleeing to the United States over the past year, though most arrive in the country via land through Mexico.

Thousands nonetheless make the risky journey by boat to Florida, where many are intercepted by the US Coast Guard or detained by authorities upon landing.

From the beginning of October through late December 2022, the US Coast Guard detained more than 3,700 Cubans.

An untold number have died attempting the sea crossing, including five in October when their boat collided with another operated by Cuban border guards.

The Dry Tortugas National Park statement said that when migrants arrive, “first responders provide food, water and basic medical attention until the Department of Homeland Security arrives and takes the lead.”

It said the park is expected to be closed for several days.

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