The Conservative government is downplaying a security crisis in Mexico that is pushing thousands of people to seek refuge in Canada, refugee advocates said Friday.

Refugee claims from Mexicans rose to more than 8,000 in 2008 from 7,000 the previous year, according to the Canada Border Services Agency, which linked the spike to vicious drug wars in Mexico.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said this week the 90 per cent rejection rate for Mexican refugee claimants "suggest[s] wide-scale and almost systematic abuse," of the system.

Gloria Nafzinger, a refugee co-ordinator with Amnesty International Canada, said his view is simplistic.

"While the acceptance rate is low at the Immigration and Refugee Board, the board and Mr. Kenney would do well to seriously investigate the levels of violence that are taking place and look closely at the nature of the claims because there are absolutely serious human rights concerns with respect to people coming from Mexico."

ReFrancisco Rico-Martinez of Toronto's FCJ Refugee Centre, said almost 90 per cent of his clientele are Mexicans fleeing violence and abuse.

8,000 Mexican deaths due to drug wars

"If you review the information in Mexico, it's clearly a serious problem in terms of violence, lack of protection from the authorities, corruption, drugs … so to continue with this idea that Mexicans are economic migrants and come and invent stories just to be here in Canada is not sustainable."

Part of the problem is that Immigration and Refugee Board staff believe Mexico is capable of protecting its citizens, so they often suggest claimants simply relocate to another part of the country, according to advocates.

Mexico has seen more than 8,000 drug-related deaths in the past year. The United States sent 500 federal agents to Mexico last week to help deal with the crisis.

Canada — which experienced a 30-per-cent increase in refugee claims last year, making it the world's second largest recipient of such claims — is bracing for even more from Mexicans travelling up through the U.S.

Mexicans don't need a visa to enter Canada, and under the Safe Third Country treaty between the U.S. and Canada, they aren't required to file a claim in the first country they enter.

With files from The Canadian Press