Bedbugs lead to legal woes for Syrian refugee families

May 14, 2018
Article Source
Toronto Star

They fled war-torn Syria only to be caught up in a new battle with a tiny but vicious foe.

Soon after Khaldoun Anijleh and his family moved into their first home in Canada, they started to get itchy red bumps and painful blisters on their bodies. Anijleh's two kids, Samer, 8, and Joudi, 11, would be up all night crying and scratching.

Then one day they discovered the culprits -- small, flat oval-shaped bugs on the baseboards and under the mattresses.

"We had no idea what a bedbug was because we had no bedbugs in Syria," said the 32-year-old butcher, who settled in Hamilton's east end in January 2016 after spending a few weeks in temporary housing at a Toronto hotel.

The Anijlehs were among 40,000 Syrian refugees who came to Canada between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2017 as part of Ottawa's historic resettlement program. The family had previously spent four years as refugees in Jordan after fleeing the civil war in their homeland.

"We are grateful to be in Canada, but it was impossible to rest and relax in our own home," he said of the bedbug problem, through an Arabic interpreter. "People refused to come to visit us and our children were ostracized in school. Other kids refused to mingle with them because of it."

With help from caseworkers from Wesley Urban Ministries, the community group assigned by the government to help with their settlement, Anijleh and 11 other newly arrived Syrian refugee families said they repeatedly asked the landlord at 221 Melvin Ave. to deal with the pests -- bedbugs and in some cases, cockroaches.

After several failed attempts by a pest control company hired by the landlord to clean up their unit, the Anijleh family moved out of the highrise on Sept. 30, 2016, and went to another part of Hamilton. The other Syrian families also left before their 12-month leases expired. 

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