Monday, November 2, 2009

Refugee swell sparks clinic funding crisis

Source: Democratic Voice of Burma (DBV)

Date: 30 Oct 2009


Oct 30, 2009 (DVB)–Increasing numbers of refugees crossing from Burma into Thailand have placed extra strain on a border clinic that treats thousands of Burmese each year, the director of the clinic said.

The Mae Tao Clinic, in Thailand's border town of Mae Sot, is "struggling with a major funding crisis", said Dr Cynthia Maung.

"This year, attacks on ethnic areas in Burma added even more patients to our ever growing caseload and forced a stream of displaced people, including orphans and unaccompanied children, over the border in search of food, shelter and education," she said in an open letter.

Speaking to DVB today, she said that "around 99.9 percent" of patients were Burmese who are unable to find adequate healthcare in their own country.

According to medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the Burmese government spends an estimated $US0.70 per person each year on healthcare.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2000 ranked Burma's healthcare system second worst in the world, one place above Sierra Leone.

"Each year the number of patients from Burma seeking treatment at the clinic increases by 20 to 30 percent," said Cynthia Maung.

She added that the clinic's child protection and education programme was also being put under strain as more young people crossed the border.

"Higher numbers are dropping out of school, and so have little chance to find employment and therefore come to Thailand," she said.

"Also, a lot of children near the border are afraid of being recruited into the army so they try to get resettled in Thailand."

A United Nations report released earlier this month found that education and health support in Thailand way surpassed that of Burma.

A person who is born in Thailand "can expect to live seven more years, to have almost three times as many years of education, and to spend and save eight times as much as someone born in neighbouring Myanmar [Burma]", it said.

Heavy fighting in June this year between government troops and the opposition Karen National Union (KNU) forced around 5,000 civilians across the border into Thailand, many of whom found only rudimentary medical assistance in refugee camps.

The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) warned yesterday of further unrest in eastern Burma in the run-up to elections next year. The Thai government has voiced concern about another wave of refugees crossing the border.

Reporting by Francis Wade