‘S.O.S. Please Help Me:’ Cuban Migrants Allege Coast Guard Mistreatment

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KEY WEST (CBSMiami) — An “S.O.S.” letter asking for help was seemingly thrown overboard by two dozen desperate Cuban migrants aboard a U.S. Coast Guard ship as they waited for a judge to decide their fate.

(Source: Jasmine Kripalani)

(Source: Jasmine Kripalani)

According to new details revealed in court, a recreational fisherman in Key West came across the message in a bottle Tuesday.

Inside was a two-page handwritten letter from the 24 migrants alleging mistreatment aboard the 278-foot Coast Guard Cutter, including violence from Coast Guard personnel.

The letter was read in court Thursday and included allegations that they were being served “food for dogs” and described conditions on the Cutter as “hell.”

Coast Guard officials are said to be internally investigating those allegations.

Attorneys for the migrants renewed their request to be able to speak to them aboard the Cutter, even if only by telephone or radio.

“We want some form of access,” said Kendall Coffey, one of eight lawyers representing the migrants.

Dexter Lee, the attorney for the U.S. government, said that type of access should be denied because the migrants are in international waters.

Cuban migrants land onto a lighthouse in Sugarloaf Key. (Source: CBS4)

Cuban migrants land onto a lighthouse in Sugarloaf Key. (Source: CBS4)

Lee added that none of the 24 migrants had an urgent medical condition.

On Thursday, Judge Darrin Gayles ruled “20 of the migrants were to found to have credible fears of persecution.” Those 20 will be transferred to the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for further evaluation.

The four remaining migrants will be repatriated to Cuba.

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