A group of thirteen Cuban refugees–11 men, one teenage girl, and a dog–arrived on American soil on Tuesday to the cheers of Miami beachgoers, two days after they had run out of food and the tiny motor on their makeshift sailboat ceased working.
The group had illegally left the communist dictatorship on their vessel on Thursday, one of the men told local media, and the group had struggled to keep the faith before landing. Videos show beachgoers alerting each other to the appearance of the vessel, shouting “¡Bienvenidos!”–“Welcome!” in Spanish–and alerting the nearby hotel staff. The first man to identify the vessel, one report notes, was a guest at the South Beach Ritz-Carlton.
“You guys made it, bro!” yells one man in the amateur footage of their arrival, as the balseros (or “rafters,” as they are referred to in Spanish) hop off their boat and run towards land.
The group later told the press that they had left from Villa Clara in central Cuba and had lost their way two days prior. They had no food, but all appeared healthy despite the lacking.
Their dog, Chiquitica, also appeared healthy, though clearly frightened.
— Yusnaby Pérez (@Yusnaby) September 15, 2015
Local media report that the beachgoers in the area immediately began giving the refugees the clothes they had worn to the beach. “One guy who came in, he’s staying at the Delano, and he gave them like $1,200. Each of them, he gave them $100,” said one man who witnessed the scene. Hotel staff at neighboring venues provided food and water, and some residents lent the refugees their cell phones to tell family they were alive. They have all been taken to Church World Service, where relatives in the United States will be alerted to their presence.
Juan Carlos Garcia, the father of the 16-year-old girl on the trip, arrived in Hollywood, Florida, in May and told reporters he was extremely worried for her because “the weather was very bad.”
Fusion notes that balseros spoke to media later, with one stating that he had made twenty attempts to escape Cuba. “I made it on the twentieth!” he said. Another attributed his survival to their dog. “She’s the one who saved us; I am a devotee of Saint Lazarus,” he explained.
“We had faith in the word of the Lord, and when we opened our eyes, we saw the lights of the United States,” explained one.
“Viva Obama, viva everybody,” said another.
The dangerous, shark-infested journey out of the communist island prison to the United States has become increasingly popular since President Obama enacted a series of concessions to dictator Raúl Castro, beginning with removing the FARC-and Hezbollah-affiliated government from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. The concessions have prompted fears among the captive Cuban population that President Obama will rescind America’s “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which states that Cubans who reach American shores are automatically considered legally in the country.
“It’s a constant flow,” U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Mark Barney told Reuters, with the agency noting that 4,235 Cubans have been forced back to Cuba this year. Nearly 24,000 Cubans risked the trip between October 2014 and May 2015, with a 177% increase in the number when comparing December 2013 to December 2014, when President Obama announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the Castro regime.