Burmese seek help from illegal clinics

Published: 18/07/2011
TAK : Mae Sot district is struggling to curb a rising problem of illegal and unsafe abortions among migrant workers.

Mo Mo Aung, a Burmese worker in the district, said a friend of hers, an illegal immigrant at a sewing factory, almost died as a consequence of an illegal abortion recently.

Her employer did not allow the woman to visit the doctor even when she suffered bleeding as a result of her abortion.

She had entered Thailand illegally and her employer feared he could be arrested if police heard about it, she said.

Her employer eventually took her to the Mae Tao humanitarian clinic at Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border, which is flooded daily with hundreds of Burmese refugees seeking medical attention.

They waited until a Sunday, when the streets of Mae Sot are busy, and authorities find it harder to detect illegal Burmese workers, she said.

Mo Mo Aung said she had known many Burmese women who crossed the border into Thailand because they wanted to end unwanted pregnancies. Some of the women had died as a result of the unsafe abortions.

Aye Aye Min, another Burmese worker in Mae Sot, said Burmese women usually sought advice about illegal abortion clinics from each other.

Ma Ma Aye, 28, a Burmese worker who has set up a group called “Yaung Chi Oo Worker Organisation” said many women end up going to an illegal abortionist because they were not ready to raise families.

Her group provides counselling to Burmese workers who are pregnant but do not want to keep their babies.

Burmese workers also turn to the Ruam Jai community, one of about 20 Burmese communities in Mae Sot, when they want help with unwanted pregnancies.

The community is a cluster of two-storey wooden row houses packed with Burmese tenants.

A number of non-profit organisations work there to help migrant workers.

One non-governmental organisation worker, who asked not to be named, said the cost of an illegal abortion in Mae Sot ranges from 1,000 baht to 4,000 baht, depending on how advanced the pregnancy was.

When complications occur, the women are sent to the Mae Tao clinic run by Dr Cynthia Maung.

Tawisa Amphong, a staff member at Mae Sot Hospital, said the hospital treats about 100,000 Burmese workers and ethnic minorities a year, but only 20,000 have a work permit.

The hospital had to meet expenditure itself of about 50 million baht a year treating this group, as the state did not want to pay medical expenses for illegal workers, said Ms Tawisa. Many women did not want to claim for them anyway, as their identity would be exposed.

The most common diseases found in Burmese patients were malaria, tuberculosis, elephantiasis, and Aids.

About 1000 pregnant Burmese women turned up seeking treatment every year, including those who suffered complications of unsafe abortions.

Patthini Suanprasert, a coordinator with the Mae Tao clinic, said 5,000 Burmese mothers registered for pregnancy care at the clinic every year.

Some returned with complications associated with substandard or illegal abortions such as internal bleeding and womb infections, said Ms Patthani.