A panel of experts on Syria and international affairs will gather 6 p.m. Thursday at Center Church in Hartford for a robust discussion on how Hartford can assist with the refugee crisis.

“I would like to see the United States pursue more vigorous and seriously determinative diplomacy to end the war in Syria and force the international and regional powers to push toward a political solution,” said Najib George Awad, a poet, author and religious scholar from Syria.

Awad, who will be one of the panelists Thursday, is also an associate professor of Christian theology and the director of the International Ph.D. program at Hartford Seminary.

“At least allow Syrians to find refuge in America,” Awad said.

Awad will be joined on the panel by Janet Bauer, anthropologist and associate professor of international studies at Trinity College; J. Anna Cabot, attorney and William R. Davis Clinical Teaching Fellow at the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic at UConn Law; and Ghoufran Allababidi, a grassroots advocate and activist with deep ties to the Syrian community.

For Allababidi, the crisis really hits home.

“This is not a small matter happening to strangers on the other side of the world,” Allababidi said. “Connecticut can make a difference by giving the refugees a chance to come here and live in peace.”

But the Syrian refugee crisis is complicated and confusing for some.

“Official responses have been complicated by our ambivalence about Muslim refugees as security threat in the post 9/11 era,” Bauer said. “There is a lot for Connecticut residents to consider – from urging policy changes to giving direct assistance.”

There’s also a lot of misinformation out there about the crisis.

Columbia Journalism Review recently ran an article fact checking talking points parroted by presidential candidates and an editorial that appeared in 11 dailies nationwide owned by Georgia-based Morris Communications. The candidates and the newspaper chain have said tens of thousands of Syrian refugees would be seeking resettlement in the United States, but the number the United States plans to take in is 10,000, according to the U.S. State Department.

Politifact also fact-checked Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statement that Syrian refugees headed to the United States are “mostly men.”

The organization found that Trump was conflating two different sets of refugees: Those 534,000 reaching Europe by sea, who are mostly men, and the 4 million Syrians in U.N. refugee camps, most of whom are women and children. Regardless, only 10,000 refugees in U.N. camps are slated for resettlement in the United States over the next year. Those making the trip to Europe are not.

The panel discussion about the Syrian refugee crisis is the first in a series of talks hosted by the church.

“We want to revive the spirit and agency of the meeting house in our city as a vital hub in the discourse and life of our communities,” the Rev. Dr. Damaris Whittaker, senior pastor at Center Church, said. “Our intention is not only to discuss the critical issues of our time but equip people to take action and become part of the solution.”

Thursday’s panel discussion will explore the background of the crisis, state and national policies, and the efforts already underway, as well as those that should be, in Connecticut.

“There is a strong push in the faith community, including by Muslim activists, to increase the number of refugees accepted into our communities. We must respond humanely and responsibly,” Whittaker said.

The panel discussion will take place in the church’s Meeting House located at 675 Main St., Hartford. The discussion is free and open to the public. Free parking is available at the Gold Building Garage on Pearl Street.


Photographer David Eric Paradine, a West Hartford native, has been photographing the refugee crisis for several weeks in Greece. Check out his photos here: www.facebook.com/davidericparadine/