Syrian Refugee Families in Canada Face New Battle with Bed Bugs

After fleeing bombs, bullets and chemical weapons in their war-torn homeland, Syrian refugees are facing a new enemy as they attempt to rebuild their shattered lives in Canada.

Bed bugs are uncommon in Syria, however many of the apartments into which the refugees have been settled are infested with the insects. Shortly after a dozen families moved to an apartment complex in Hamilton, Ontario, the new residents found they were waking up covered in itchy bites, while their children would cry throughout the night.

After the refugees first raised the alarm, pest controllers were hired on multiple occasions, but despite their best efforts the bed bugs kept returning to plague the confused refugees.

“They didn’t know what these pests were,“ said Ali Marathi, a solicitor representing the refugees. “Obviously, it was traumatic for them.”

The high-rise building was notorious in Ontario for its bed bug problem, noted Naraghi.

Once the culprits were identified, a two-year legal battle ensued. With assistance from local advocacy groups, the refugees took Diamond International and Melvin Apartments Incorporated to tribunal. The families broke their leases and sought compensation from the apartment rental agency for damage to clothes, bedding and furniture. The agency responded by countersuing for unpaid rent.

Last month, the parties reached an undisclosed settlement.

“Our clients are happy to have reached a settlement with Melvin Apartments on terms that are satisfactory to both parties,” confirmed Naraghi.

Human rights activists say their plight highlights just one of the many challenges encountered by refugees in an adopted country where bureaucratic processes and language difficulties hold them back.

It also casts a light on Canada’s intractable bedbug problem. Infestations in the country began to rise alarmingly ten years ago, and despite spending millions to control the blood-sucking parasites, the issue has only grown worse as the insects continue to spread.

Refugees in other regions of Canada such as Burnaby, Toronto and Halifax have also complained of bed bugs in their new residences. According to online database ‘The Bed Bug Registry’, Toronto suffers the nation’s largest infestation with over 2,000 reported cases so far this year.

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