Raab: RNLI do incredible job but UK must 'come down hard' on 'parasite' people smugglers

29 July 2021, 10:09 | Updated: 29 July 2021, 17:25

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has told LBC the RNLI does an "incredible job," but he says the government must "come down as hard as possible" on the issue of small boats bringing migrants into England.

Branding the people smugglers "parasites," Mr Raab said the strongest criminal action needed to be taken.

His comments come after RNLI crews were subjected to abuse for rescuing migrants in boats who were struggling at sea, prompting well-wishers to donate £200k in a day for the charity's life-saving work.

Yesterday the head of the RNLI defended lifeboat crews for helping rescue migrants, saying "decent people" deem it "humanitarian work of the highest order".

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Mark Dowie, RNLI chief executive, said he felt compelled to comment after volunteers reported being heckled for bringing migrants to safety.

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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.

Government officials fear that high numbers of crossings will continue as summer goes on, with small boat arrivals this year having already passed the total for the whole of 2020.

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Mr Dowie said the sea charity was "doing the right thing" by going to people's aid, regardless of their reason for being in the water.

He said: "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."

A London RNLI crew hit out on social media at the weekend after volunteers were verbally assaulted.

Crews also described being on the receiving end of an "angry mob" after coming back from a rescue, with members of the public shouting at the migrants to go "back to France".

Mr Dowie acknowledged the migrant crisis was a divisive issue, but said RNLI volunteers simply wanted to prevent people dying at sea.

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 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."