Out in the Mediterranean, three thousand people have drowned, countless others are lost that we don’t know about. Every day, young men try to swim across the swirling, lethal waters of the Strait of Gibraltar. Few make it.
Nobody willingly treks across mountains and deserts or puts their precious children into an overloaded boat, if the alternative at home is worse. Desperation drives people forward.
This is the defining moment of our times. The human catastrophe across North Africa and the Middle East is unprecedented in its scale, perhaps in the long view of history, eclipsing even the misery at the close of the second world war.
Millions of homeless people have abandoned their animals, their belongings and their jobs. They have nothing. All the small things we take for granted are gone. Water. Light. Clean clothes. A warm bed. Food.
From war-torn Syria, Iraq and Libya and beyond, families are not seeking a better life in the West. They are fleeing for their lives.
The keyboard warriors on Facebook are having a grand old time as usual, feeding off the images of horror and pity to advance their discourse of hate. These right wing elements (eg EDL, NF, UKIP) are whipping up a campaign to highlight the plight of homeless ex-service personnel (there are about nine thousand of them), arguing that charity begins at home. They are saying that we should be looking after 'our own' first, never mind refugees. To these people I say this:
If you are so concerned about homeless people in this country, what are you doing to help right now? Why haven't you been campaigning and making a practical contribution already? Why has it taken a human catastrophe in the Mediterranean to make you act? Is it real concern for these abandoned soldiers or is it jealousy and shame, made rancid with racism?
If you really want to help homeless people in the UK, tell the Government to change its policies and invest in more social housing. Also tell them they shouldn't abandon mentally traumatised and socially isolated ex-forces people to the scrap heap. Don't blame foreigners. Do something constructive about tackling the callous iniquities visited upon the poorest and most vulnerable by the British Establishment.
This is not an either / or situation: the reason for homelessness among ex-service personnel is essentially the same reason we have the current refugee crisis: Western governments who stomp into countries to protect their interests, launch disastrous military adventures, then walk away and take no responsibility for the devastating impact they have on people's lives – be they local people or the military combatants involved.
It is of course a national disgrace that ex-forces men and women are left to fend for themselves - but that's the fault of the Forces and their political paymasters for not looking after THEIR own.
Additional to the homeless ex-service people, we might also spare a thought for our prison population, vast numbers of whom are suffering untreated mental illness, and who will also be released into society destined for stigmatisation, vagrancy, further criminality and an early death.
When the callous rightists decry ordinary people's genuine efforts to help people fleeing for their families' lives, they are wrong. It is to the social criminals in charge that they should be directing their rage: the heartless politicians and comfortable army top brass, the greedy bankers and business oligarchs, who sit on their hands and look the other way, who constantly tell us we’re broke while they quietly rake in the cash. Wake up people!
Supporting refugees isn't neglecting our responsibilities at home. It is part of the same urge for decency and compassion, fending for the weakest, being a civilised human being. There is enough compassion and love to go round for everyone.
If this crisis focuses attention on homelessness at home, good. If it also means that politicians are less likely to wage war, good. If it means the lies of quasi-fascist morons like Britain First are exposed, good. All good.
Meantime, if we can save just one life, or make life a fraction easier for any of the lost souls in the world, that is a small triumph.
Don't let's be depressed, let's do something. Let’s be generous, let’s be kind to each other for a change.