Separated Koreans Dying Out
RIibbons hung on the fence on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone signify the peoples’ enduring
hope for reunification with their estranged countrymen.
South Korean government data showed recently that more than 1,200 South Korean members of families separated by the intra-Korean border since the 1950-53 war, died in the first quarter of this year.
Since the end of hostilities, countless families have been split, unable to meet. Eventually, the two Koreas organized family reunions as a goodwill gesture.
The last one took place in October 2015 at a resort on Mount Kumgang on North Korea’s east coast. The practice was suspended amid the escalating tensions among organizers.
Since 1988, South Korean authorities have tallied the number of separated family members. A total of 131,172 separated family members have registered on the waiting list for family reunions with their kin in North Korea.
Since then, about 53% of those on the list have passed away as of the end of March 2017, including 3,378 in 2016, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, an executive department of the government aimed specifically at reuniting Koreans separated by the war.
Given rising tensions between the United States and North Korea, and their repercussions on intra-Korean relations, it is unlikely that family reunions will be on the agenda for the foreseeable future, leaving an increasingly smaller group warily waiting.
Ministry of Unification data indicates that a whopping 62% of the 61,322 surviving family members are over 80 years old: with 43% of this number aged 80 to 89 and 19.4% over 90.
This means that many will die before North and South Korean authorities allow family reunions again. Technically, the two states are still at war since they have never signed a peace treaty.
In total, only some 20 family reunions have taken place, leaving many families who are waiting for their turn desperate and losing any hope of ever seeing their loved ones once again.
Such meetings began in 1985. South Korean regulations dictate that in order for the meeting to take place, South Koreans must demonstrate that they have still living relatives in North Korea and must register with the Ministry of Unification. Then they are chosen by lottery. On the other hand, little is known as to how North Korea picks family members.
A survey in 2016 by Seoul’s Ministry of Unification found that almost eight out of ten South Korean separated families said that the top priority should be placed simply on confirming whether their family members in North Korea are still alive or not.