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'They are so desperate': After makeshift boats wash ashore in St. Johns County, social workers weigh in

Two homemade boats could be evidence of attempts to flee from Cuba

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — In St. Johns County, two makeshift boats that washed up earlier this week onto two separate beaches are raising some questions.

The watercraft appear to be from people attempting to make it to the U.S. from another country, possibly Cuba. The question is, why now? 

When a woman who works with Cuban refugees saw pictures of the homemade boats, her first reaction was, "Terrible!"

Beatriz Alonso Gonzalez helps Cuban refugees at Lutheran Social Services in Jacksonville and she hears their stories.  

While no one knows if these two boats are from Cuba, law enforcement thinks they are and Gonzalez said she thinks so as well.

USA Today reports that more boats are coming into South Florida with Cubans fleeing from their country trying to get to the United States. There was a surge in the 1970s and 1980s. But why is there a resurgence now?

Gonzalez said her clients tell her that, "in Cuba, it's very hard to find food, medicine, basic stuff."

And that’s not just for the poor. The working class is also struggling to find food and medicines, even in stores. 

Gabriella Dominguez-Ramos has also worked with Cuban refugees at Lutheran Social Services. She has family in Cuba. 

"There are broken houses," she explains. "Buildings are falling apart. Roads are not roads. You have to stand in line all day for a pound of rice and then by the time it's your turn, there's no more rice. This is throughout the whole country...yes, it’s a beautiful island, but have you seen outside the tourist areas?"

Ramos' parents came to the United States in 1994 on a raft. She said there were 17 people on it.

"The supplies and resources are not the best," she noted. 

She has heard her parents tell stories about sharks swimming around the raft.

"That must have been scary for them. Especially with that many people on one raft. God knows how long it would have lasted."

A coastguard boat picked up Ramos' parents and the others on that raft while it was still in the water and eventually brought them to the U.S.

"What I understand is they want a better future. In Cuba a lot of ideas are imposed upon you," Ramos said. 

Gonzalez said Cubans and Haitians are the only nationalities from the American continents that can receive U.S. government benefits up to six months.

Ramos estimates about 2,000 Cuban refugees have come into Lutheran Social Services in Jacksonville in the last two years, aiming for a better life.

Some are willing to risk their lives on boats like the ones that washed up in St. Johns County this week. 

"They are so desperate," Gonzalez said. 

Ramos added, "I think there are so many stories we don’t know because a lot of people don’t make it."

RELATED: Two boats wash ashore on First Coast, one in Crescent Beach, one in Summer Haven

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