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THAILAND: Dr Cynthia's clinic targeted by Thai Government's crackdown on migrant workers

October 2, 2003



2 October 2003

UA-57-2003: THAILAND: Dr Cynthia's clinic targeted by Thai Government's crackdown on migrant workers

THAILAND: Thai-Burmese border; Migrant conditions

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from FORUM-ASIA that Dr. Cynthia Maung's Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot District of Tak Province, which provides healthcare service to asylum seekers and migrants on the Thai-Burmese border, may have to close down as a result of the Thai Government's crackdown on migrant workers.

This action, if pursued by Thai authorities, will have serious impact on a vital healthcare service for asylum seekers and migrants on the Thai-Burmese border. AHRC also fears for the safety and welfare of those medics and school teachers if they are deported from Thailand into the hand of Burmese authorities. Medics and school teachers from Mae Tao Clinic may be singled out by Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which could possibly lead to severe persecution and maltreatment including torture and execution.

AHRC requests your urgent action to pressure the Thai government to allow the clinic to continue functioning undeterred.

Urgent Appeals Desk
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)


On 29 September Mae Tao Clinic was inspected by Thai authorities. Officials from Mae Sot District Office and the Immigration Department, who were accompanied by armed police and intelligence officers, told Dr. Cynthia that she should prepare for the arrest and deportation of medics and school teachers who have previously been registered as migrant workers with the Ministry of Labor. This warning came after the Thai Government passed a cabinet resolution in August prohibiting 12,161 registered migrant workers from renewing their work permits. As a result, more than 100 medics and school teachers at Mae Tao Clinic could no longer stay in Thailand after their work permits expired on 25 September. This may include Dr. Cynthia herself. Although she has now lived in exile in Thailand for 15 years, Dr. Cynthia has no official papers and is effectively stateless.

Mae Tao Clinic treats 150 patients a day, delivers 10 to 20 babies a month, trains 30 medics a year and provides prenatal checkups, childhood immunizations and education about nutrition, sanitation and family planning. Its five doctors and 123 other medical staffs treat everything from diarrhea to gunshot wounds for almost free of charge. For that, Dr. Cynthia has won numerous international prizes including a Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.


Please write a letter or email to the addresses below to express your concern over this case. A sample letter is attached.

1. Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra
Prime Minister
Government house,
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District,
Bangkok 10300
Fax: +66 2 282 8631
Email: govspkman@mozart.inet.co.th

2. Mr. Suwan Liptapanlop

Minister of Labour

Ministry of Labour

Mitmaitri Road

Din Daeng

Bangkok 10200


Fax: 662 245 9133

3. Pol. Lt. Gen. Hemaraj Thareeethai

Commissioner of Immigration

Immigration Bureau

The Royal Thai Police Department

507 Soi Suan Phlu

South Sathorn Road

Bangkok 10200


Fax: (662) 287 1310; 287 3114; 287 1516

4. Professor Saneh Chamarik


The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand

422 Phya Thai Road

Pathurn Wan District

Bangkok 10300


Fax: 662 219 2940

Email: commission@nhrc.or.th

5. Mr. Jahanshah Assadi

Regional Representative

UNHCR Regional Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam

3rd floor, United Nations Building

Rajdamnern Avenue, Bangkok 10120


Fax: (662) 280 0555; 281 6100

Email: assadi@unhcr.ch

6. Ms. Gabriela Rodriguez Pizarro

Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants

CH-1211 Geneva 10
Tel: 4122 917 9111

Fax: 4122 917 9003
Email: webadmin.hchr@unog.ch

Suggested letter:


Re: the closure of Dr Cynthia Maung's Mae Tao clinic for asylum seekers and migrants

I am writing to express my deep concern at the Thai government's threat to close Dr Cynthia Maung's Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot district of Tak province and deport the medics and students who work there, including Dr Cynthia herself.

The Mae Tao clinic is the main provider of healthcare services for migrants and asylum seekers along the Thai-Burma border. Apart from treating patients, the clinic trains medics and provides health education.

Also, Dr Cynthia and her staff may face persecution and maltreatment if they are deported from Thailand into the hands of the Burmese authorities. I therefore urge you to pressure the Thai government to not deport Dr Cynthia and her staff, and to allow the clinic to continue functioning.

Sincerely yours,




Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.