Published: 08:22, 28 July 2021
| Updated: 09:48, 28 July 2021
The head of the RNLI has defended its lifeboat crews helping to rescue asylum seekers at sea after some of its volunteers have been heckled.
Chief executive Mark Dowie said the charity was "doing the right thing" by going to people's aid, regardless of their reason for being in the water.
RNLI footage of a rescue in the Channel
It comes as record numbers of people seeking asylum – including 350 on Sunday – try to cross the Channel to get to the UK, despite the Home Office vowing to make the route "unviable".
He told the PA news agency: “The people of these islands (the UK) fundamentally are decent people, and all decent people will see this as humanitarian work of the highest order.
“Our crews should not have to put up with some of the abuse they received."
Mr Dowie admitted the issue was a divisive one among many people but simply said the RNLI wanted to stop people dying at sea.
He added: “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.
"We have seen life jackets made out of lemonade bottles strung together, women and children, young men, old men, with no life jackets, in the middle of nowhere, with ships going past just hundreds of yards away. It’s a very, very frightening environment for those people
“Our volunteers get out of bed in the middle of the night, leave their employment, leave their families, and go out and do this because they believe in doing the right thing. Never doubt their commitment to that.
“If you look at social media, around almost any issue you will find very strong views one way or the other. We are doing the right thing.”
Mr Dowie said dinghies were often overloaded and inadequate for such a perilous journey, with poor conditions on board and people suffering exposure, dehydration or other sickness, having sometimes spent more than 30 hours trying to teach the British mainland.
He thinks the humanitarian side of the RNLI's efforts to rescue people crossing the Channel hasn't been told properly.
The charity chief executive said: “This story needs to be told. It’s a very polarising issue. The humanitarian side of this has not really been told properly.
“We wanted to tell this now, our crews are becoming busier and busier with this work.
“It’s important that what they see and what they do is properly appreciated.”
More than 9,000 people have crossed the Channel so far this year on board small boats, despite the dangerous journey claiming lives in the past.
In July so far, more than 3,300 have arrived in the UK in a new record for a single month, according to data analysis by PA.