The head of the RNLI has defended lifeboat crews for helping rescue migrants at sea, saying “decent people deem it “humanitarian work of the highest order”. Chief Executive of the RNLI Mark Dowie said he needed to comment after volunteers were verbally abused for bringing migrants ashore safely.
It comes as record numbers of migrants attempt to cross the Channel to get to the UK, despite promises from the Home Office to make the route from mainland Europe “unviable”.
Mr Dowie said the lifeboat charity was “doing the right thing” by going to people’s aid, regardless of their reason for being in the water. He said:
“The people of these islands are fundamentally decent people, and all decent people will see this as humanitarian work of the highest order. Our crews should not have to put up with the abuse they received.”
At the weekend, an RNLI crew from London hit out on social media after their teams and volunteers were heckled and jeered. Crews also described being on the receiving end of an “angry mob” after coming back from a rescue, with members of the public shouting at the migrants to “go back to France.”
Mr Dowie said the migrants’ dinghies were often dangerously overloaded and inadequate for such a perilous journey, with poor conditions on board and people suffering exposure, dehydration or other sickness. He added:
“We have seen life jackets made out of lemonade bottles strung together, women and children, young men, old men, with no life jackets, in the middle of nowhere, with ships going past just a few yards away.
Mr Dowie acknowledged the migrant crisis was a divisive issue, but said the remit of the RNLI was to prevent people dying at sea. He said:
“We have seen the negative reaction to the issue since this route was opened up more than five years ago. It’s polarising, but it’s humanitarian work… that’s what we should all remember.