Next Steps after the Reunions

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Next Steps after the Reunions

The North Korean delegation of separated family members leaves for Pyongyang today, August 17, aboard a Korean Air plane. The delegation from the South will return to Seoul on this same plane. A four-day reunion after 50 years apart was simply too brief after such a long wait. The government‘s of the two Koreas must ensure that this does not become a one-time event. The key to this lies in institutionalizing reunions and lines of communication between separated families. The reunions should not be a miraculous windfall for an extremely limited number of separated families but an ordinary experience that takes place within an institutionalized framework. Ultimately, the two Koreas have to address the mandate of allowing separated families to be reunited according to their own free will.

The first generation of separated families, who experienced the separation first-hand half a century ago, was approximately 1.23 million people. The fact that it would take more than 1,000 years for all of them to be reunited with their families if 100 of them are allowed to meet each month shows why the governmental authorities of the two Koreas must make haste. The size and frequency of the reunions through mutual visits should be greatly expanded. Furthermore, letter exchanges should also be allowed and a permanent meeting place set up in the immediate future. There is also no reason that the separated families be limited to using only air transportation. They could use automobiles as well as trains once the railway is restored between the South and the North.

It is important to allow the separated families to inquire after each other through diverse channels and means, including the exchange of letters and presents. The time has also come to begin discussions on remitting money to family members. Both authorities should take responsibility for implementing these measures, for which their need is so obvious to everybody, regardless of if they belong to a separated family or not. These issues should be top agenda items at the impending ministerial and Red Cross talks. There is much to be learned from the Germans who allowed citizens to travel freely to visit their separated family members within a given period of time. They began this policy long before unification and it led to the ‘unification’ of a number of separated families.

This week‘s reunion events confirmed in us that the separated family issue is not dictated solely by "blood and tears." It showed us that separated families face such mundane problems as double marriages and inheritance questions with many more problems sure to surface through future reunions. We now face the additional task of devising appropriate legal and systematic measures to deal with such problems.

by Park Young-sook

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