Keep reunions going

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Keep reunions going

The separation of families from North and South Korea is a tragedy, and their reunions have captured the attention of people around the world. Photos depicting the reunions at Mount Kumgang were published last Tuesday on the front pages of leading world newspapers, such as the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune.

Since 1988, 127,726 displaced people have filed applications to meet their families in the North. Today, only two-thirds of these people, or 86,531, are still alive.

The likelihood that they will meet their families in the North is estimated to be far below the average of 0.2 percent, given that the number of people age 80 and older is more than 32,000 and the number of people age 70 and older is 33,000.

The reason why there have been so few reunion events is linked to the North Korean authorities. Most North Korean people with family in the South are classified as lower class in terms of political ideology. In many cases, the presents they receive from their South Korean families are items they themselves could never afford and are worth a lot of money.

Those who have remained poor and were under surveillance are quite well off now after meeting their families in the South. It imposes a huge burden on North Korean authorities.

This is why the North has been trying to reduce the number of reunions of separated families. It is also the reason why the issue has been related to food and fertilizer aid. We had no choice but to give some compensation to the North.

Vice Minister of Unification Hong Yang-ho said Tuesday, “We will never link family reunions to food aid.” The principle of not linking humanitarian food aid to a specific issue is understandable. However, what efforts has the government made toward continuing the reunions of separated families?

We think that the issue of separated families should be dealt with from a renewed perspective. But there is no time to hesitate and what is needed are drastic measures. We should give up the idea that a new round of reunions can be held without offering humanitarian aid to the North. In addition, no strings should be attached, such as “distribution transparency.”

Take, for example, the German case. The government of West Germany paid for the release of East German political prisoners.

By resorting to such means, the number of people allowed to participate in the reunions should be increased to more than 1,000 to 2,000 each year. The sad truth is that there won’t be any more applicants in a decade, and three or four out of every five people will pass away without ever reuniting with their families.

The issue of separated families is a humanitarian matter, far beyond the boundary of political, economic, national or nuclear concerns.
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