Ken Bernhard: Syrian Crisis Is Of “Biblical Proportions”

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, more than 30 governors have said their states will not accept Syrian refugees.

Connecticut’s Democratic governor, on the other hand, personally welcomed a family diverted from Indianapolis to New Haven.

A former Republican legislator from Westport thinks that’s great.

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard is not just reacting to the news of the day. He’s been concerned with refugees’ plights  since the crisis began several years ago. A noted attorney, he helped found The Syria Fund. That 501(c)(3) provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in dire, desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations.

Bernhard’s humanitarian efforts began at a typical suburban setting: a cocktail party. A woman who’d studied in Syria told him about the refugee crisis brewing in the Mideast.

Bernhard had taught under a UNESCO program in Jordan. He recalled the “lovely, hospitable, generous people” he’d met, and vowed to help.

The refugees who began fleeing Syria nearly a year ago are primarily middle class, he says. Rich and poor Syrians left a long time ago; store owners and professionals thought they’d be able to “hunker down.” Now they’re leaving their embattled land with only what they can carry. Up to 80,000 are jammed into temporary camps.

Syria Fund logoWestporters have reacted “very generously” to his pleas for help through the Syria Fund, Bernhard says.

The former elected official — he’s been Westport’s 3rd selectman and served 4 terms in the Connecticut General Assembly, including a stint as assistant minority leader — is wary of politicians who “advocate simple solutions to complex situations.”

The US has been actively involved in the Middle East for 70 years, he notes. Our actions — like supporting the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein (“until we turned against him”) — have helped sow the seeds of the current dangerous problems.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that’s partly the result of our own actions,” Bernhard says. “We’ve had the advantage of an ocean between here and there. Now we’ve got a choice with these refugees: step up or not.”

He is not naive about the need for security. But, he insists, “the process to get here is so arduous. These are people who have been seeking sanctuary for years. In 2 trips over there, I’ve never seen people hostile to the US.”

He adds, “what are these millions of people fleeing Syria supposed to do? If we don’t help, the problem will migrate. We’ll have to deal with it somewhere else.”

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Bernhard calls the conditions in the migrants’ camps appalling. Families sit idle in the hot (and cold) desert. Children grow up there knowing no other life. “If we don’t educate them, and give them employment and prospects for hope, these are the young men who will turn to ISIS,” he says.

He is proud of what The Syria Fund has accomplished — with help from his fellow Westporters. As long as refugees need aid, he’ll continue raising funds.

“This is America. This is Westport,” Bernhard says. “It’s a mass migration — a crisis of biblical proportions. We’re witnesses to it. We all have an obligation to step up and do something about it.”

(To learn more about The Syria Fund, including how to contribute, click here.)


17 responses to “Ken Bernhard: Syrian Crisis Is Of “Biblical Proportions”

  1. Wouldn’t it be inspiring if THIS Republican were running for high office?

  2. Mr. Berhard’s efforts are commendable and inspirational. ~ Kristan Hamlin, RTM District #4

  3. “…..huddled masses, yearning to be free.” Remember that line and where it is, and step up to the Syrua Fund. mmm

  4. Thanks for sharing the info about Ken and his work with/for Syrian refugees. He’s always been thoughtful and helpful. I’m so glad his interests led him to this work.

  5. Ken has been an outstanding advocate for refugees and an example for all of us. Thank you Ken for visiting the camps and taking such a personal interest in the work of UNHCR and others. The Syria Fund is a wonderful group doing everything they can to improve the lives of refugees forced to flee their homes and country.

  6. It seems a shame that decent governments haven’t seen fit to involve a United Nations Court for a proper adjudication.

    This instrument most be available! Why is nothing being done in the case of Assad?

  7. Good work. Those who are panicking should take the long view. Which Syrians/Iraqis will turn terrorism, those packed in a refugee camp in a desert or those allowed into a country where they can live decently and get work? Saturday at 10 a.m. there’s a rally in Hartford at the back side of the Capitol Building called: Say “Yes” to Syrian refugees. All welcome.

    Now, anger at ISIS for its monstrosities is completely just, but should be directed at those responsible. Please note that ISIS “beliefs” are virtually the same as the gang running Saudi Arabia and the Saudi elite is widely suspected as supporting ISIS and other Islamic extremists. One way of fighting ISIS is by having our government end its alliance with Saudi Arabia and urging foundations and colleges to refuse to take Saudi money. See

  8. Yearning to BREATHE free……. mmm

  9. I have thought that mayors of all towns in the U.S. should be invited to agree to take in a manageable number of families in. It would be voluntary. The mayors, consulting with their town members, would determine the number.

  10. Ken, congrats on being involved with Syrian refugees. The current situation is difficult and I am one who is glad that people like Rep. Himes voted to put a hold on allowing more refugees into the US. The veto proof vote, supported by both democrats and republicans was in response to concerns raised by the FBI Director, and others, who are worried about a terrorist entering the US. I am one who is very disappointed that both Governor Malloy and Rep Steinberg (Westport) want to continue to bring Syrian refugees to CT, and not wait a period of time, that could put Westporters in harms way.

    Going back to 2011, President Obama stopped processing Iraqi refugees coming into the US when a security issue was discovered. At that time the US had more information on Iraqi refugees (than we do Syrian refugees) as US forces were in Iraq and they performed more detailed background checks, because they were in Iraq. Yet, despite having all the information on Iraqi refugees, President Obama felt it was necessary to put on a 6 month hold in order to review and change security screening processes. Now we have Syrian refugees coming into the US, and as we have learned, there is real concern regarding how much detail the US can gather because there is very little US government interaction in Syria.

    With the Paris shooting I feel it is worth delaying refugees coming into the US until the FBI and others can sign off that we have assembled the best information and installed the best processes to protect all of us.

    ISIS has threatened to perform one of their next terrorist acts in NYC. Why would Governor Malloy and Rep. Steinberg decide to bring more Syrian refugees into CT, when we are so close to NYC? We have many mothers and fathers who work in NYC and many family members who work, go to school, and live there.

    I feel we should wait for a period of time until more intelligence is gathered regarding what happened in Paris. Once our government officials along with the Europeans finish their investigation, it seems to make sense that we use whatever information is found to insure we understand any Syrian refugee danger. Then, to me, our government can add the additional security measures and processes to insure all of our safety. Just like President Obama did in 2011.

    As Americans we are compassionate regarding the plight of the Syrian refugees. Unfortunately, after Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, President Obama decided not to act. Now they run.

    But it only takes is a few bad people, coming across our borders, and we could find the US facing a Paris shooting or something worse.

    We must try to avoid at all costs, a terrorist act in NYC, and all of the US.

    I look forward, hopefully after all is done, seeing the Syrian refugees entering the US.

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      Lamentable that due to gun laws (rather lack thereof) people are slaughtered everyday in the U.S. by Americans, themselves.

      It is also lamentable that, alas, Xenophobia has reared its ugly head,
      yet again.

      So much doesn’t make sense.

  11. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Premiers across Canada have indicated how many refugees their provinces will commit to with the numbers EXCEEDING the total goal of 25,000 by the end of the year. However, the plan is now limited to women, children and families. Tomorrow, a finalized plan will be unveiled.

  12. Michael Pettee, Saint Paul, MN

    Great work Ken Bernhard! I am at this moment on a return flight from Paris so I am well aware of the need for vigilance and reasonable security measures. I will add this: the refugees in the photo really don’t look like terrorists. And while opening a door to the tempest-tossed is for me the right thing to do, I also worry that closing that door will help breed future terrorists who otherwise have little to look forward to.

  13. Hmmmm…. This one is certainly a tough question. Bart is right, lots of sympathy but clearly security issues. Maybe 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000 is a terrorist capable of killing or maiming 100’s, maybe capable of radicalizing 10 more who could do same. While not exactly equivalent, I wonder if folks would advocate taking in same ratio of Ebola or Bubonic Plague carriers unscreened. Or welcome sex offenders or psychopathic murderers into Westport in same ratio.

    I also wonder whether this is a theoretical excercise for many commenters here. I mean, they aren’t exactly being relocated to Westport. I don’t see anyone in Westport offering to take Syrian refuges into their houses or even into Westport. No advocates for Syrian housing instead of Senior housing in Westport. Maybe a couple accepted into Westport schools but that would pretty much be it. We’ll advocate letting them in but, as a practical matter, they aren’t moving here (or Nancy’s neighborhood) and Westport is an unlikely target so this is probably someone else’s problem unless maybe you work in NYC. We’ll talk a big game and throw some money at it but then we are done – we don’t really have to live directly with the consequences of what we are advocating.

    Having said that, there is potentially a thread of xenophobia involved. But you can’t dismiss safety concerns and economic interest. As a country, we certainly have and should welcome the tired masses yearning to be free. Not sure that is what they will get if the economy can’t absorb them and they end up on the dole breeding contempt and providing fertile ground for radicalization.

    A tough question with no easy answers. We’ve demonstrated we can’t solve our own issues much less the world’s. How far does our moral obligation extend to drag ourselves down to pull others up? Harrison Bergeron anyone?

    Clearly, I don’t have the answer.