The Mae Tao Clinic was established in 1989 to meet the health needs of Burmese migrants. Dr. Cynthia Maung, a Karen doctor, found the Clinic after she fled Burma along with many of her compatriots in 1988. In recent years, she has gained international recognition and accolades. The clinic is located in Mae Sot, only a few kilometers from the Burmese border. It began as a small operation, with very few supplies and medicines. Over the years, its reputation has grown among the migrant population and inside Burma as a center that provides free, quality medical treatment. In 1989, the clinic provided health care for 1,760 patients; in 2005, the clinic treated 49,000 patients.
For over half a century turmoil has shaken Burma. The country’s ruling military junta is widely criticized for human rights abuses. Due to the political turmoil there are over one million Burmese living in Thailand today. The exact numbers are not known, but some 130,000 live in refugee camps, and many more live outside the camps. Among the latter group, some have legal work permits, but most reside in Thailand illegally. For those in the refugee camps, while their basic survival needs are provided for and they have a chance to go to school, there is little opportunity to earn money.They are in Thailand for a very basic reason–to survive. At the mercy of border police and their employers, they are often exploited and discriminated against. Many live in constant fear of being deported and therefore avoid going to government institutions such as Thai hospitals and public health clinics.
Mae Sot refugee camp is mainly inhabited by Karen’s and students who have joined the Karen’s.
The Karen are an ethnolinguistic group of Sino-Tibetan descent, living in the South East of Burma, in the State of Kayin. Some of the Karen, led primarily by the Karen National Union (KNU), have waged a war against the central Burmese government since early-1949 at first aiming for independence and since 1976 for a federal Karen state.
The Karen are mostly Buddhists, but a number have moved to Christianity, mostly seventh-day Adventists.