On May 31 1847 forty ships lay off Grosse Île with 12,500 passengers packed as human ballast. How does their story compare to today's refugee crisis?Grosse ile and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site

Now I know what the nightmare voyages of the Great Hunger Irish must have looked like.

I know because watching the refugee crisis play out in Europe has given me uncomfortable insights into our own pitiful chapter of needless human misery.

Exiled at home and exiled abroad the Irish then and the overwhelmingly Syrian refugees now have taken to the waters in barely seaworthy crafts, guided by their desperation and their dreams of a safe haven, and praying for a new life far away from the guns and horror or starvation and economic misery engulfing their own lands.

Syrian refugees at the border of Hungary and Austria. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Creative Commons

Syrian refugees at the border of Hungary and Austria. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Creative Commons

In a detail that is sure to resonate for the Irish, more refugees have died at sea in the month of May than perished on the Titanic.

More than 1,000 refugees died in the past week in the Mediterranean according to the International Organization for Migration. Among the many hundreds drowned were women, children and infants.

Read More: 50,000 famine Irish in the US were deported back to Ireland

The migration crisis, which has lasted nearly four years, has seen Libyan smugglers take increasingly brutal advantage of their human cargo, sending them into calm seas and sunny skies in boats crafts that sink easily as the wind changes.

Bridget O'Donnel, a victim of Ireland's Great Hunger, was interviewed by The Illustrated London News in 1949.

Bridget O'Donnel, a victim of Ireland's Great Hunger, was interviewed by The Illustrated London News in 1949.

No one actually knows the true numbers of the desperate drowned at sea in their attempts to carve a new future.

In the 21st century thousands of people are experiencing a 19th century or earlier human disaster.

Italy, overwhelmed by the sheer numbers fleeing Libya, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq, has contended with 19,000 migrants arriving by sea in May - and more than twice the figure in April.

Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has appealed to the European Union to allow for more legal pathways for refugees to reach Europe, insisting it is ”shameful" that the 28-nation zone had resettled fewer than 2,000 people under their own EU plan announced last year to resettle 160,000.

In Libya, a country now engulfed by anarchy and violence, the hard choice for many is between the traffickers or the ISIS recruiters. We need to help provide a better alternative.

It’s unarguable now that George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq eventually destabilized half the Arab world. The Iraq war led on to collapsed governments and further conflict in Syria and Afghanistan.

Knowing this, it is incumbent upon the United States to be part of a greater effort now to install a functioning government in Libya and to end the fighting in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.

Read More: George Clooney cites his Great Hunger roots in refugee speech (VIDEO)

Equally we should be offering more assistance to foster security and development in sub-Saharan African nations like Eritrea, Nigeria, Gambia and Ghana.

We should be at the head of the global rescue effort, the world expects us to, but instead we are allowing a modern day nativist to influence our global response as he threatens to build walls and pursue xenophobic programs that will offer nothing to the crisis but the nation’s scorn.