The head of the RNLI has defended lifeboat crews for rescuing migrants at sea, saying "decent people" recognise their efforts as "humanitarian work of the highest order".
Mark Dowie, RNLI chief executive, said he felt compelled to speak out as volunteers reported suffering “vile” abuse for bringing boats crossing the English Channel to safety.
His statement follows accusations by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage that rescuers were serving as a “taxi service for illegal immigration”.
Last week the number of English Channel crossings in 2021 surpassed the 2020 record, with at least 8,452 people making the treacherous journey in the hope of reaching the UK. The rise has led campaigners to urge the government to set up safe alternative routes for asylum-seekers, but home secretary Priti Patel has vowed tougher action to prevent boats making the crossing.
Mr Dowie insisted the sea charity was "doing the right thing" by going to people's aid, regardless of their reason for being in the water.
"The people of these islands are fundamentally are decent people, and all decent people will see this as humanitarian work of the highest order,” he said.
"Our crews should not have to put up with some of the abuse they received."
The charity’s chief executive added: “We want to be absolutely clear that we are incredibly proud of the work our volunteer lifeboat crews do to rescue vulnerable people in distress,” Mr Dowie said.
“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. All we need to know is that they need our help.
“Our crews do what they do because they believe that anyone can drown, but no one should.”
The RNLI is independent of the coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service.
Since the charity was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.
In statements released by the RNLI, volunteers spoke of receiving “vile” abuse after rescuing people making Channel crossings.
One said that they had received personal phone calls at the lifeboat station with “people telling me what they think of me bringing migrants in”.
Speaking of a rescue during “one of the busiest days of the year” at British beaches, the volunteer said that migrants walking up the beach were subject to abuse, with “some drunken yob throwing a beer can at them.”
They added: “You just can’t believe what you are seeing from human beings.’
Another described how, after rescuing two families with little children on a small inflatable boat, volunteers were met by “an angry mob” on the shore, who shouted “’F*** off back to France’” at us as we tried to bring them in.”
They added: “It’s one of the most upsetting things I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine what those families felt like, coming ashore to that after the night they’d had.”
Another RNLI coxswain said: “We’ve had some vile abuse thrown at us. We’ve been accused of all sorts of things.
“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.”
One volunteer said: “This country is having a crisis of empathy and I love that the RNLI are standing up for our morals and showing what I truly believe is the Britain we should all be proud of.”
Another added: “It makes me incredibly sad. It takes its toll emotionally witnessing sad and desperate scenes sometimes daily. Its particularly difficult when there are children on board.
“They are normally terrified, screaming and crying. To then return home and face the backlash from people in the community and on social media makes it all 100 per cent harder.”