RNLI releases footage of Channel rescue and reveals crews experience 'vile abuse'

28 Jul 2021 News

RNLI Portrush crew member. Credit Nigel Millard.

Today the RNLI released rescue footage of volunteers rescuing migrants from the English Channel and details of “vile abuse” from the public. 

Earlier this month, Nigel Farage accused the RNLI of becoming a “taxi service” for migrants. The RNLI has now shared details of some of the abuse its volunteers get due to rescuing migrants, a statement from its chief executive and footage from a rescue.  

The footage released this morning shows a lifeboat crew helping people, including children, who had been trying to cross the English Channel in a dingy. 

The RNLI, which rescues around 30,000 people a year, also shared anonymous statements from its volunteers which explain what it’s like at sea. These also offer an insight into the abuse volunteers witness for their part in rescuing people. 

Mark Dowie: ‘I could not be prouder of our amazing volunteer lifeboat crew’

In a statement alongside the footage, Mark Dowie, chief executive of the RNLI, emphasised that the charity operates under International Maritime Law, does not judge people in trouble, and is focused on its purpose of saving lives. 

He said: “I could not be prouder of our amazing volunteer lifeboat crews, who launch to the aid of anyone who is in trouble in or around the water and needs our help.” 

The RNLI always responds to calls from HM Coastguard in the UK and the Irish Coast Guard about people at risk of drowning. The charity operates under International Maritime Law, which states that it can enter all waters for rescue purposes. 

“We do not judge a casualty on what circumstances have found them in trouble,” Dowie said. 

This means “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 concluded: “Our crews do what they do because they believe that anyone can drown, but no one should. They believe in and remain focused on our core purpose, along with every member of the RNLI, to save lives at sea.” 

Volunteers: ‘What hits you hardest is when you see the children in such a distressed state’ 

The RNLI also published statements from 11 volunteer crew members with experience rescuing migrants. 

They explain the kinds of unsuitable boats, lack of appropriate clothing and vulnerability of people of people crossing the Channel, as well as their gratitude and relief and being saved.

“I think what hits you hardest is when you see the children in such a distressed state,” one said. 

Another said: “Most are desperate, the boats are overcrowded, women and children are often crying, some are seasick and not well. I recall one incident where the transom at the back of the boat was hanging off and the boat was taking on water, so we whipped them straight off the boat before it could sink. 

“There was another one where we took the migrants onboard including women and children and the children were incredibly upset as one of the women passed out, we believe it was almost out of relief of being rescued as she came round shortly after.” 

That crew member later added: “If the worst happens and a boat overturns with 30-40 people on with children, we will struggle to save them all. The image and thought of that happening is enough to make your blood run cold. We need to find and help these people. No-one deserves to drown because of where they come from.”

‘Vile abuse thrown at us’ 

Last Friday, one RNLI crew called the police about verbal abuse. 

Tower RNLI, which operates in London, tweeted: “We are shocked and saddened to report some of our volunteer crew were verbally assaulted due to their role when reporting for duty tonight. This behaviour will not be tolerated. Thank you @metpoliceuk for your support.”

Some of the statements released today also give an insight into the kinds of abuse volunteers experience. 

One said: “We’ve had some vile abuse thrown at us. We’ve been accused of all sorts of things. 

“I’ve personally had personal phone calls at the lifeboat station people telling me what they think of me by bringing migrants in, but at the end of the day I reiterate we are here to save lives at sea and all the time we are here that is what we will carry on doing.”

A second highlighted the abuse that migrants get from the public when they see them being rescued. 

They said: “I felt so sorry for them because where they were taken ashore it was one of the busiest days of the year. The beach was absolutely packed. 

“The abuse that was thrown at the people walking up the beach, the women and the children and there was some drunken yob throwing a beer can at them. You just can’t believe what you are seeing from human beings.”

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