Hopes fading for reunion of Korean families

Hopes fading for reunion of Korean families
From Al Jazeera - February 19, 2018

Seoul, South Korea - Despite the inter-Korean talks last month that resulted in the North's participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, uncertainty still surrounds proposed family reunions due to take place over the Lunar New Year.

Officials from both sides of the border held talks on January 9 and South Korea had hoped a reunion of the families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War would take place this month, the first such event since 2015.

Out of the 131,447 individuals in South Korea who have registered with the Korean Red Cross since 1988 as having family in the North, more than 72,000 have died.

Almost 14,000 of those alive are aged 90 and above. For them, time is running out.

"I signed up for a reunion 30 years ago but have yet to be picked for one," 80-year-old Nam Gyu-hyeong told Al Jazeera.

"While I would still like to be part of a reunion, I think the Red Cross and the authorities should have done something earlier. For me, there is not much time left. Five of the nine people I fled North Korea with are dead already."

Dead or alive?

Families gathered at the Imjingak Resort in South Korea to pay respect to their ancestors over the Lunar New Year. For those who have been separated by the Korean War, it can be a painful time.

Many do not know if their loved ones in the North are dead or alive.

But this ritual offers these families a physical proximity to their homes and the solace of comfort from others with the mountains of North Korea on the horizon.

"Not many of those are alive now and soon we will all be gone," Kim Yong-ha, president of Tongil Kyoungmohui, said.

"Our wish is to have people visit their homes. The second and third generation will forget about their grandparents' stories. We should all know about our roots."

North Korea has sent an Olympics delegation to Pyeongchang and the two squads walked under the unified flag at the opening ceremony. The Koreas have also formed a joint female ice hockey team.

However, according to Jung Jae-eun, deputy head of Korean Red Cross' Inter-Korean Cooperation, the reunions and humanitarian diplomacy depends on the general trend of North-South relations.

No progress


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