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Syria to raise army salaries to fight 'economic migration'

Syria's PM admits that 'phenomenon of migration' is impacting country's army, once numbered at 300,000 but depleted by years of war
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visits troops near the capital Damascus in August 2013 (AFP)

Syria is promising to raise army salaries to combat the large numbers of people fleeing the country “for economic reasons”.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was quoted in the government-run SANA news agency on Tuesday as saying that Syrians were leaving the country because opposition forces were “systematically targeting infrastructure, leading to a fall in the standard of living”.

He said that factors like rising prices had led “some young people to evade military service and emigrate…for economic reasons”.

Halqi promised to fight the “phenomenon of migration” out of Syria by raising military salaries and improving job prospects for people who complete national service.

At least 11 million people have fled their homes since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, according to UN figures.

More than seven million people are thought to be internally displaced, while upwards of four million are registered as refugees in Syria’s neighbours, according to UN figures.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have also applied for asylum in Europe, many after risking perilous boat crossings of the Mediterranean sea.

Those who arrive safely are largely considered to be asylum seekers rather than economic migrants on the basis of the catastrophic situation in Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has previously admitted that his armed forces, backed up by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, Iran and most recently by Russian airstrikes, is facing manpower shortages.

Once numbering around 300,000 members, the Syrian army is thought to have been seriously depleted by years of war, as well as by the mass exodus from the country.

Males in Syria are required to begin three years of military service on turning 18, although shortages mean that reservists, who may have completed their service years previously, are constantly being called back to the front lines.

Additionally, new conscripts are often thrown into battle with little training, making them more at risk of capture by rebel forces, according to Christopher Kozak, a Syria analyst at the Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War.