Migrant crossings: 'I've seen babies thrown, men fighting and women clasping hands in prayer'

  • WARNING: Video contains footage and detail which may be distressing.

Dramatic body-cam footage of a lifeboat crew rescuing five people in the English Channel has been released by the RNLI.

The video shows volunteers pulling migrants to safety and desperately trying to keep them conscious.

One member of the crew can be heard shouting to his colleagues: "Guys this is serious, one person not breathing".

Some of the migrants can be seen crying and shivering while others receive life-saving treatment.

Dover RNLI volunteer crew deliver casualty care Credit: RNLI

Another crew member can be heard encouraging them to keep shivering so he can hear that they're still awake.

Among the casualties were a family of four, including a 14-year-old girl, believed to be from Afghanistan.

All those rescued by the crew on this occasion survived.

An RNLI volunteer, who has responded to similar rescue missions in the Channel, has revealed he and his colleagues have received extra training in, not only how to assist a childbirth at sea, but also what to do should they come across tens of bodies floating face down in the water.

He said: "Dinghies are always packed the same way - women and children huddled on the thin plywood floor, men on the outside, seated on the inflated hull. It used to be that dinghies only had 20 people in them. Now, we often pick up vessels with two or three times that amount. The dinghy bottom is usually swilling with a mixture of seawater, petrol and vomit.

"There is an unspoken fear among crew that a dinghy will split apart as people rush and clamber over its sides. This is where the skill of the coxswain is truly remarkable for, whatever the weather, he manoeuvres our boat into such a position that we are close enough to start pulling people across. Getting them onboard is rarely pretty.

"We pass lines to outstretched palms to thread through carry handles at the bow and stern of the dinghy; that way, we can bring it alongside and, in theory, the people can step across quickly and safely. But because the boats are cheap and cynically made for one purpose only, the handles quickly come away under load. That’s when people start to panic.

"This is the most terrifying part. Some hold up their children, hoping we will save the most vulnerable first. Others just make a leap for it, scrambling across the churning gap between the boats, hoping that their strength will be enough to save them. All we can do is our best.

A mass rescue simulation exercise involving RNLI lifeboat crew and lifeguards Credit: RNLI

"As the two vessels lurch unevenly side by side, rearing up and down, it feels overwhelmingly chaotic.

"I’ve seen parents throw their babies across; I’ve seen others trampling neighbours to the floor; I’ve seen men fighting as they struggle to hold one another back; I’ve seen terror as old women hold up clasped hands in prayer, not looking to us but instead to the sky."

The RNLI’s Head of Lifeboats, Simon Ling, said: "The crew testimony and rescue footage show the reality of what our volunteer lifeboat crews face when they launch to the aid of people crossing the Channel at the request of HM Coastguard.

"We are incredibly proud of our crews who continue to respond selflessly to their pagers, day or night, simply to help others. They have responded in a humbling way to this increase in demand with continued dedication, commitment and compassion."

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