Nigel Farage has accused the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) that it is facilitating illegal immigration and which is said to be operating a “migrant taxi service” by rescuing people at risk of dying in the water as they cross the Channel in small boats.
The volunteer lifeboat charity said it was “very proud” of its humanitarian work and it would continue to respond to coastguard callouts to rescue at-risk Channel migrants in line with its legal duty under international maritime law. The charity says it is its moral and legal duty.
“Imagine being out of sight of land, running out of fuel, coming across incredibly busy shipping lanes when you’re frightened and you don’t know which direction you’re going in. That is by anyone’s standards distress. Our role in this is incredible important: simply to respond to a need to save lives,” said Mark Dowie, the chief executive of the RNLI. He continued, “These islands have the reputation for doing the right thing and being decent societies, and we should be very proud of the work we’re doing to bring these people home safe.”
Dowie said he had spoken to crew members who shared “harrowing” details of “an appalling melting pot of possible risks” to understand the plight facing migrants and wanted to share these more widely. “I understand it’s a polarising and complex situation,” he said. “But unless you’ve experienced being in an open boat in the waves, it’s quite hard to get a feel for what it must be like.”
Testimonies from crew members released by the RNLI shed light on the dangerous situations for migrants. These include people lost in the ocean for 30 hours in -2C (28.4F) temperatures in January, families suffering from severe heatstroke and seasickness on sweltering summer days, people travelling on unseaworthy vessels such as inflatable dinghies, sailing catamarans and canoes, or sometimes floating on the broken remnants of boats without any lifejackets, hoping to be saved.
One volunteer described an especially harrowing encounter: “They’d paddled this thing about 80% of the way across the Channel and they’d been doing this all night. They’d made it into the middle of the shipping lane, and they were just so exhausted they couldn’t go on and they had nothing left and they’d stopped. When we got there, they were so tired they hardly reacted to us.”
Other volunteers shared experiences of “vile abuse” on the beach as they returned with people, including young children, in desperate need of medical attention, such as having beer cans thrown at them and people shouting “fuck off back to France”.
The RNLI is looking to promote empathy and understanding among the British public with respect to migrants crossing the Channel despite criticism on social media of its humanitarian work after it was included in a Daily Mail article that claimed to reveal “migration madness”.
Dowie stressed that the RNLI’s role was solely to save lives, not to act as an additional border control force.