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Boatload of Cuban immigrants land on US beach

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Eleven Cuban immigrants came ashore on a Florida beach, kissing the sand and jumping for joy at reaching US soil, according to bystanders and authorities.

The men, aged 25 to 45, arrived in perfect health on Monday on touristy Hollywood Beach just north of Miami, a spokeswoman for US Customs and Border Protection, Elee Erice, told AFP.

"They said that they were out at sea for approximately three days," Erice said.

Every year, thousands of Cubans jeopardize their lives in an attempt to arrive in the US via rudimentary boats and rafts.

Under US policy, undocumented Cuban immigrants who are intercepted at sea are generally repatriated, while those who reach US soil are allowed to stay and gain residency within a year.

Florida is a magnet for Cubans, as its shores are just about 100 miles (160 kilometers) away.

Area resident Pamela Smilack told the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper that she was sunbathing a few yards (meters) away when the boat landed.

"I was here about 10 minutes and I heard a lot of ruckus very close by," she said.

"When I saw them kiss the ground and start cheering, I assumed that they had come from Cuba and made it safely to Florida, so it was a beautiful thing to witness."

The men were processed at the nearest customs station and then transferred to a refugee center in downtown Miami, where immigrants are taken to get in contact with family and friends, Erice said.

In 2012, some 1,275 Cubans were intercepted on the voyage between Cuba and Florida, according to Coast Guard statistics.

Although Miami is the Cuban immigrant capital of the world, boats rarely arrive there, instead aiming for the Florida Keys, the area closest to Cuba.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130910/boatload-cuban-immigrants-land-us-beach