RNLI release dramatic bodycam footage of migrant Channel rescue for first time - as boss defends crew who faced abuse

·4-min read

Dramatic bodycam footage of migrants being rescued by the RNLI in the English Channel has been released by the charity for the first time.

The video shows around 12 people in a small inflatable dinghy being pulled to safety by volunteers in November 2019.

A baby and at least one other child are seen onboard as rescuers instruct a number of them not to climb on to the rescue vessel unassisted.

The majority of the migrants are seen not wearing life jackets and appear to be wearing jeans, trainers and coats.

Many seem to be soaking wet as they clamber on board the RNLI boat and some appear distressed and barely able to stand.

Once pulled to safety, the charity volunteers do their best to reassure the migrants, whose nationality is unknown.

One volunteer can be heard saying "can you keep your eyes open for me?" and "raise his head" to one of the people rescued, while another is heard saying "I am sorry my friend" and asking a migrant if they feel sick.

The video was released after a London RNLI crew reported being verbally abused by members of the public while entering their base at the weekend.

When asked about details of the incident, an RNLI spokesperson declined to comment, saying it was being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.

RNLI chief executive Mark Dowie praised volunteers, saying the charity is "incredibly proud" of their work.

He said: "Every year, our lifeboat crews and lifeguards rescue around 30,000 people. We do not judge a casualty on what circumstances have found them in trouble.

"They go home after a shout secure in the knowledge that without their help, the person they rescued may not have been able to be reunited with their own family. That is why they do what they do."

He 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.

"They believe in and remain focused on our core purpose, along with every member of the RNLI, to save lives at sea."

Speaking separately to PA news agency, Mr Dowie acknowledged the migrant crisis was a divisive issue but said volunteers are carrying out "humanitarian work of the highest order".

He said: "We have seen the negative reaction to the issue over the course of the last five years since this route was opened up.

"It's polarising, but it's humanitarian work of the highest order. That's what we should remember. Our crews should not have to put up with some of the abuse they received."

Commenting on their own experiences, some RNLI crew members, who have not been named, spoke out about receiving abuse.

One recalled a time when they rescued four adults and three children from a boat about a mile away from their station, once they towed the vessel to shore members of the public shouted at them to go "back to France".

They said: "Sometimes the people on the beach ignore us when we come back from a job, and sometimes they say some very nice and supportive things to us, but I've never been met by an angry mob before.

"And 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 crew member 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."

Just over a week ago, the highest number of migrants to cross the Channel into the UK in a single day was recorded.

More than 430 migrants made the dangerous journey, passing the previous daily high of 416 set in September last year, according to data compiled by PA.

PA analysis suggests more than 3,330 arrived in the country in July alone, which is more than the 2019 total.

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