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Globe editorial: Ottawa needs to show some results on dealing with refugee claimaints

Canada’s largest city has 6,806 beds in its emergency shelters, but a rising influx of asylum seekers has pushed it to the breaking point.

There are 2,351 refugee claimants in Toronto shelters right now, compared to 459 in 2016, city officials said Thursday.

This is, by any definition, a serious problem. But is it a crisis? One might think so from listening to some politicians.

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On Wednesday, Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée floated the not very original idea of building a fence on Chemin Roxham, the isolated rural road on the Quebec-New York border that has become the unofficial entry point for border hoppers arriving from the United States.

Mr. Lisee later walked back the idea of closing off the crossing. But in the absence of demonstrable action by Ottawa to deal with the rise in refugee claimants from the U.S., the public may become more open to that kind of rhetoric.

The truth is, there is no crisis.

Through nearly four months of 2018, it’s estimated 5,000 or so asylum-seekers gravitated to Toronto. It’s not nothing, and forecasts are trending upward for the summer.

But in all last year, 20,593 asylum-seekers were intercepted for “irregular” crossings between border points, and another 22,180 arrived through official channels. For a country of 36-million, the numbers are hardly overwhelming.

And it isn’t as if our immigration controls are non-existent. In 2017, Canada deported 8,200 people and denied 30 per cent of refugee claims, roughly the same proportion as the previous four years.

The most serious issue is the sizable claims backlog, which hit 43,276 as of Dec. 31. What the public needs to see is some concrete progress on that. Toronto made a sensible call on Thursday for increased personnel to process claimants.

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That ought to be possible, as Ottawa pledged $173-million in its latest budget to help unburden the overtaxed refugee system.

What won’t help is overheated political rhetoric. We are dealing with a short-term phenomenon, a knock-on effect of the Trump administration’s repugnant views on immigration. But unless Ottawa produces some results this summer, that rhetoric will only grow.

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