The compassion of the crowd can make you feel heartless for reserving comment until a reasonable question has been answered. When we began getting pictures of Syrians walking into Europe last week and our media became awash with the story, my heart was stuck on one question: why is this happening now?
The Syrian civil war has been raging for four years. The atrocities of Isis are reason enough for anyone to flee but they have been happening for a while and I'd not read of an upsurge of late. Why are so many people on the move now?
What on earth has just happened that could cause the parents of that drowned boy to put him at such risk?
Oddly, the coverage wasn't asking these things. When such an obvious element of a story is missing I worry about why that might be.
Night after night, images on the screen left the impression these people were coming from Syria and words accompanying the images made little effort to dispel the impression. It took me a while to realise these people had left Syria years ago. They were coming from refugee camps in Turkey.
United Nations refugee camps are wretched places, as we know from Rachel Smalley's reporting for the Herald and World Vision this year. She described some appalling dangers, particularly for barely pubescent girls who have to get married for safety.
But, dangerous as the camps may be, the millions living in them would not be there if they presented imminent life-threatening peril to most of those seeking asylum.
Most of the people now pouring into Europe are clearly not in urgent need of refuge, the majority appear to be young men on the make, and good luck to them. I'm all for economic migrants. I think Australia should quietly welcome the boats. People with the energy and pluck, not to mention the money to pay smugglers, will probably be productive citizens.
But we should not confuse them with refugees in urgent need or real peril and we should not allow media to stampede us into a state that demands the Government gives them priority for additional places in its refugee resettlement centres.
The folly of what we have just done might have been avoided by answering that question, why so many people are walking into Europe right now? I found the answer in last month's news files. It's dull, it did not make headlines here, but it explains a lot.
Quite recently the German Government decided to abandon a European Union agreement that asylum seekers should have their cases considered in the first EU country they reached. That meant unauthorised migrants who made it to Germany would not be sent back to Italy, Greece, Hungary or wherever they first entered the EU.
Italy has been under particular pressure this year from people crossing from North Africa in crowded boats and it had appealed to EU governments to share the burden. Germany agreed and, as the euro crisis proved, what Germany wants is what the EU gets.
Germany, for recent historical reasons, is well disposed to refugees. It is not just war guilt; during the Cold War escapees from East Germany were constantly welcomed in the West and when the wall came down the country was reunited with memorable generosity, exchanging the East's currency at face value.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the East Germans who remember. But I suspect even she has been surprised by the torrent of migrants her Government's decision has unleashed. The human tide was already rising steadily this year, now the dam has burst.
It will be interesting to see what happens at an EU meeting on Tuesday. Many of those attending have passport-free borders with Germany.
The people surging through police lines and crowding trains bound for Germany are not poor and downtrodden. They are said to be from the educated, professional and business-owning populations of Islamic countries ruined by primal religious and tribal hatreds.
Those who have fled are sensibly selective in where they want to be. They are not interested in Greece or Hungary or the Balkans or, probably, New Zealand. Germany has jobs and it is not so far from home.
But even Germany cannot absorb more than a fraction of the world's 60 million people now displaced from their homelands. There has to be an organised international system and United Nations refugees camps are probably the best the world can do.
Relying on governments' aid and donor organisations, the camps accommodate people for as long as it takes until they find it safe to go home. Those for whom it will never be safe can get asylum in countries like ours. That is how it works if we keep our heads.