Twenty Cuban refugees came ashore on Roatan this afternoon after 11 days at sea in a makeshift boat.
The boat carrying 18 men and two women was spotted around noon about three miles off Mudhole, on Roatan’s north shore, by three people out looking to photograph migrating whale sharks. Shawn Jackson, the photographer of the group, said the Cubans had lost their engine and were paddling the boat with oars. The refugees were ferried in Roatan Marine Park boats to West End, where authorities conducted preliminary interviews and looked to their health needs.
Andy Lopez of the Honduran civil defense agency COPECO said all appeared to be in good health, although one had apparently burned his arm on the boat’s engine, which sat uncovered in the middle of the boat. The refugees said they stopped briefly in the Caymans and on a Belizean cay to take on provisions. They said they had fled Cuba because of the economic situation and to seek a better life elsewhere. They had heard life was better in Honduras. Those we spoke to said they were from Camagüey. They said they had been planning their escape from Cuba for some time.
Lopez said refugees from Cuba arrived in these water about once a year but they normally landed on the coast. He said the last group to land on Roatan was about four months ago, near Oak Ridge. Many locals remember a boatload of refugees arriving at Punta Gorda about four years ago.
Officials from the Honduran Navy, National Police, COPECO and Border Police were on hand to receive the first eight of the refugees as they arrived on the pier across from the Coconut Tree in West End about 12:30. They were given food and water, then taken to Sundowners to shower. A nearby beach barbecue gave them all food.
A police official said the refugees would spend the night at the detention center behind the police headquarters in Coxen Hole, then be taken to La Ceiba to be processed by Honduran immigration, which will determine their status.
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