Close to 429,0000 Syrians have requested asylum in Europe since conflict broke out in their country in 2011, and the number of has climbed in recent months due to growing hardship and a lack of prospects in the Middle East, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
More than four million Syrian refugees living in deepening poverty in neighbouring countries say they feel increasing despair and desperation as the war between rebels and forces loyal to authoritarian president Bashar al-Assad has entered its fifth year with no end in sight, the UNHCR said.
"In many cases savings are long depleted, precious valuables have been sold off and many refugees across the region live in miserable conditions, struggling to pay rent, feed their families, and cover their basic needs," it stated.
Unable to work legally, many refugees struggle to make a living and provide for their families, driving them into debt and exploitation by employers who hire them off the books, UNHCR reported.
If caught working illegally, some refugees face sanctions, for example in Jordan being returned to a camp. Under new regulations in Lebanon, refugees must sign a pledge not to work when renewing their residency, and must pay 200 dollars per year to renew their stay.
Lebanon's new regulations for Syrian refugees have made it harder for Syrians to access asylum, driving them on to Turkey, while according to UNHCR.
Shrinking humanitarian aid was also cited by refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt as cause of desperation and a major factor in their decision to make dangerous journeys to seek refuge in Europe the agency said.
Chronic funding shortfalls for programmes for refugees and host nations in the region has meant cuts in food aid for thousands of refugees, who are sinking deeper into debt and often unable to afford healthcare.
"As a result people resort to negative coping strategies – including begging and child labour," said UNHCR.
Another key driving factor in the growing number of Syrians seeking asylum in Europe is the limited schooling available to refugees in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq, according to UNHCR.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in the Middle East are not attending school. "The worsening conditions that refugees face in exile are having a devastating impact on the education of refugees," it stated.