A group of undocumented migrants from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union arrived Monday by boat off the shores of Monroe County, Florida.
Alyson Crean, a spokeswoman for the Key West Police Department, said a boat chartered from Cuba docked at the south end of Duval Street, in the heart of the city’s tourist district, around 4 p.m. last Sunday.
A group of 15 migrants —9 of Russian origin, 4 from Kazakhstan, and 2 from Kyrgyzstan— docked at a local pier and entered the iconic Southernmost Beach Café, where those present called police.
Officials told The Washington Post that, according to eyewitnesses, the 15 subjects were part of another group of about 40 people who arrived by boat from Cuba. Local authorities suspect the migrants crossed the Florida Straits from the Caribbean island, but it was unclear whether they were residents of Cuba or had traveled from their home countries.
A peculiar group of migrants
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that the migrants in question were “smuggled” to U.S. shores and are in Border Patrol custody today.
“Smugglers have no regard for the lives of migrants, and far too many lives are lost at sea as individuals take the dangerous journey in makeshift boats, rafts, and other vessels ill-equipped to handle the rough waters,” said Eduardo Maia Silva, DHS spokesman, in a statement.
For their part, Monroe County authorities, who say they are accustomed to receiving Cuban nationals in the Florida Keys, had never before encountered illegal travelers from Eastern Europe or Russia, so they initially treated the encounter as a “national security event.”
“All we ever do when we have migrants land of any nationality is to make sure they are safe, but these people were not like the usual migrants,” said Monroe County Mayor David Rice. “They were well-dressed, on a chartered boat, and hadn’t been adrift for a week.”
It is not yet clear whether there were more migrants of Russian origin, or whether they might have been “dissipated” into the communities prior to the apprehension.