Broader family reunions

SEOUL: South and North Korea have rapidly expanded economic and civic exchanges in recent years but the chances for separated families in the two divided halves to have reunions are still extremely limited.  

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of liberation from the Japanese rule, reunions through a video conferencing system were arranged on Monday, but only a little over 200 people belonging to 20 families were lucky to have the privilege. 

The 60th anniversary of liberation means 60 years of division for the country since the peninsula was cut on the 38th parallel with the occupation of the northern and southern parts by the Soviet and US forces at the end of World War II. Refugees began moving to the South since the establishment of the communist rule in the North in 1948 and there was a mass exodus during the 1950-53 Korean War.  

An estimated five million people were able to escape to the South as the UN forces once occupied the nearly entire North Korean territory before the Chinese intervention. It was rare that an entire family moved together in the war and most families were broken up. These refugees are now in the seventies-or-older age bracket and thousands are dying each year of old age and illness.  

When the two Koreas began discussing the family reunion project in the early 1970s, Pyongyang’s Red Cross delegates proposed “free movement” in each other’s territory in a propaganda ploy, but they in fact refused even the free exchange of letters. Since the first visits in 1985, only about 10,000 people have been allowed to meet their separated family members so far even though the frequency of reunions was somewhat increased following the inter-Korean summit talks in 2000.  

Now the authorities of the two Koreas should expedite the project of establishing a permanent reunion facility in the northern border city of Gaeseong. The occasional reunion opportunities in Mt Geumgang alone cannot help realise the lifelong wishes of those aged refugees to meet their brothers, sisters and parents. The video reunions should be made a monthly or weekly event.  

According to the Unification Ministry, 98,000 people are awaiting chances for a reunion with their loved ones and officials have to constantly update the list because the number of those passing away grows day by day. - The Korea Herald 

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