RNLI defends crews’ work rescuing refugees in the English Channel

THE head of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute has defended lifeboat crews’ work rescuing refugees in the Channel after volunteers reported being heckled by mobs. Britain’s leading sea rescue charity has come under attack in recent months after former Ukip leader Nigel Farage branded it a “migrant taxi service” and the Daily Mail highlighted the RNLI’s humanitarian work in an article purporting to expose “migrant madness.” 

An RNLI London crew hit out on social media last weekend after volunteers were verbally abused while entering their base. RNLI chief executive Mark Dowie said he felt compelled to comment after the incident. “When it comes to rescuing those people attempting to cross the Channel, we do not question why they got into trouble, who they are or where they come from,” he said. 

“All we need to know is that they need our help.” In a bid to promote understanding of the plight of refugees crossing the Channel, the RNLI has released footage of the rescues for the first time, alongside testimonies from volunteers. 

One clip from November 2019 shows several people, including children, crammed into a small inflatable dinghy, with many not wearing life jackets. Some of those rescued appeared distressed and barely able to stand, with several wearing sopping wet clothes as they clambered onto the RNLI rescue vessel. Mr Dowie said the humanitarian side of the issue “has not really been told properly.”
The anonymised testimonies released by the charity lay bare the abuse its volunteers have received. One said that after they had rescued two families with young children, they were met with an “angry mob” who told the families to “fuck off back to France.” 

“It’s one of the most upsetting things I’ve ever seen,” the volunteer said. “I can’t imagine what those families felt like, coming ashore to that after the night they’d had.” Other testimonies shed light on the dangerous situation for refugees, with people lost in the ocean for 30 hours, families suffering from heatstroke and seasickness, and others hanging on to broken remnants of boats without life jackets throughout the night.

Our reader's can help the RNLI save lives at sea by making a one off or a regular donation to their work. You can also see the crews of the RNLI in action, over on the series Saving Lives at Sea, which is available to watch on BBC Iplayer.

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