As Burma tries to move away from decades of brutal military rule, Sydney’s newest Peace Prize recipient says the fight is far from over for the country’s refugees.
Dr Cynthia Maung, an ethnic Karen, fled to the Thai-Burma border during the pro-democracy uprising of 1988.
There, she set up the Mae Tao Clinic, which has grown from working in a small border home to providing care to 150,000 people per year.
Most of the clinic’s patients are either internally displaced people or Burmese who are working undocumented in Thailand.
The clinic has also trained midwives and community health workers in a bid to reduce Burma’s high infant mortality rate.
In Burma’s cities, she said almost half of all children are delivered at home.
In border towns and ethnic areas, this figure jumps to around 90 per cent, she said.
Apart from the health implications, Dr Maung said the children born at home have created a whole generation of refugees, as they aren’t registered and therefore have no citizenship.
“That means a huge number of children are very vulnerable … to child labour and trafficking,” she told AAP on Monday.
When the clinic recently opened a school, 70 per cent of the children who joined had no papers, she said.
Dr Maung said she wanted to use the prize to remind Australians that just because Burma says it is moving away from its history of repressive military rule, much of the country’s ethnic population continues to be displaced.
“The ceasefire is very fragile. People want to go back to their community but they are afraid,” she said.
“Land confiscation is also another issue that prevents refugees from going back to their community.”
Dr Maung will deliver the Peace Prize Lecture at Sydney’s Town Hall on Wednesday before receiving the prize on Thursday.
Previous recipients include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Professor Noam Chomsky and last year, the Zimbabwean Senator, Sekai Holland.