Foreign policy cuts funding for AusAID-funded refugee clinic

Patients wait for the doctor at the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot. Australia will no longer fund the award-winning clinic for Myanmar refugees on the Thai border. Photo by: Peter Mulligan / CC BY

Australia confirmed it will not continue funding an award-winning clinic for Myanmar refugees on the Thai border due to Canberra’s support for the policy encouraging those refugees to return home enacted by the Myanmar government.

Last June, the Mae Tao Clinic was denied additional funds beyond December after it failed to meet the requirements for competitive bidding set by the Australian Agency for International Development, which used to contribute AU$500,000 a year. The clinic — run by former refugee and recent Sydney Peace Prize laureate Dr. Cynthia Maung — could very well shut down if it cannot find other donors before the end of 2013.

“Australia is funding organizations on the Thai-Myanmar border whose assistance aligns with the current and prospective needs of refugees,” a spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Devex. “An independent evaluation of Australia’s existing programs recommended future support focus on preparing refugees to return home when conditions permit.”

AusAID is no longer an independent executive agency and since last week is part of DFAT.

AU$8M aid package

The spokesperson explained that after an independent evaluation of Australia’s existing programs in the area recommended future support to focus on preparing refugees to return home when conditions permit, the agency “completed a competitive tender process for a new aid package for refugees.” Over the next two years, AusAID has allocated AU$8 million for NGOs to provide food and shelter, basic healthcare, education and vocational training for refugees willing to return to Myanmar after the official end of military rule in 2010.

But the Mae Tao Clinic will not be one of the beneficiaries.

“A proposal to partially fund the Mae Tao Clinic was unsuccessful as it did not align with the objectives of the new program and its services do not reach as many refugees as those of successful applicants,” said the statement from DFAT.

Kate Lee, a senior official from the clinic’s Australian partner Union Aid Abroad, previously told Devex that Canberra now feels that with the changing political climate in Myanmar, a “gradual withdrawal of services from the border” is in order, but Maung stressed it’s too early for that, especially considering the appalling conditions of healthcare in the country.

Additional reporting by Lean Santos.

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About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.

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