NICOLA Sturgeon has backed lifeboat crews after they were abused by right-wing critics for rescuing refugees and migrants in the English Channel.

The First Minister spoke out on social media as the head of the RNLI defended the actions of emergency responders, saying "decent people" deem their efforts "humanitarian work of the highest order".

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

Sturgeon replied: “Beyond depressing that saving human life is work that an organisation is forced to ‘defend’. Migrants are human beings whose lives matter. Thank you, @RNLI for all that you do.”

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 told the PA news agency: "The people of [the UK and Ireland] 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".

Ukip founder and GB News host Nigel Farage has also branded the RNLI a "taxi service for migrants".

Nicola Sturgeon has condemned attacks on the RNLI after far-right critics including Nigel Farage criticised the life-saving service

READ MORE: Nigel Farage's 'revolting' GB News report from English Channel sparks fury

Dowie said RNLI volunteers simply wanted to prevent people dying at sea, adding: "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."

The life boat chief explained that migrants' 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 reach the British mainland.

"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,” Dowie said.

"It's a very, very frightening environment for those people.

"The most abiding reaction of people who made this journey is just one of absolute relief to get on to a (rescue) vessel which is more suited to the conditions."

The RNLI also released dramatic footage of a rescue in the Channel, when around a dozen distressed and shivering people on board a small dinghy were pulled to safety, in an effort to highlight the plight of those trying to make the trip.

Dowie commented: "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 9000 people have crossed the Channel so far this year on board small boats despite the Home Office vowing to make the route “unviable”.