Syrian man carrying a baby along the highway with other refugees, several kilometres after leaving Budapest, Hungary, heading in the direction of Vienna, Austria. Photo: UNHCR/Mark Henley
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GENEVA – Despair at appalling living conditions among the 4 million Syrians who have already fled to neighbouring countries is fuelling the current flood of refugees to Europe as they flee once more, this time from restrictions and under-funded aid programmes that have led to child labour and even ‘survival sex,’ the United Nations said on Friday.
“Refugees face horrible living conditions, and restrictions in the legal regimes for refugees in the countries where they live […] When people don’t have proper shelter and are living on 45 cents a day, of course they want to move,” Amin Awad, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said.
“Refugees are having to adopt negative survival strategies – like child labour, dropping out of school, begging and survival sex. They need much more support,” he told a press briefing in Geneva. “These are societies that put a high value on education and now they are seeing their children out of school.”
Stressing that the refugees have lost hope for any improvement in Syria which has been torn asunder by more than four years of war in which at least a quarter-million people have been killed and 12 million more forced to flee their homes, Mr. Awad warned that the situation would only end when the fighting ended and the region stabilized.
“Syria is burning; towns are destroyed and that’s why people are on the move, that’s why we have an avalanche, a tsunami of people on the move towards Europe,” he said. “As long as there’s no resolution in Syria and no improved conditions in neighbouring countries, people will move.”
There have now been almost 429,000 Syrian asylum applications in Europe since 2011, but due to the lack of reception facilities many of the most recent arrivals have yet to apply with the flood increasing exponentially.
Based on surveys of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq, Mr. Awad cited seven principal factors behind the latest outflows, first among them loss of hope with no sign of a solution in sight.
“Feelings of uncertainty about the future are compounded by miserable conditions, fuelling a sense of despair and desperation,” he noted.
Other factors include the high costs of living in the neighbouring host countries and deepening poverty; limited employment opportunities due to restricted access to work; aid shortfalls with programmes that are 59 percent underfunded; difficulties in renewing legal residency; lack of education for children; and a feeling of insecurity especially among refugees in Iraq.