Easing pain of separationThe total number of South Koreans who have applied for a reunion with family in the North now amounts to 128,232. Among them, 44,940 have died, and about 77 percent of those that remain are in their 70s and over.
Since the first family reunions took place in 1985, when 92 South Koreans met with family members in Pyongyang, 17 such meetings have been held. This has allowed 1,782 South Koreans a few brief moments with relatives they hadn’t seen since the Korean War ended in 1953. But that number only accounts for 1.38 percent of all applicants. Worse, these reunions have been infrequent for several years because of the freeze in inter-Korean relations, further deepening the sorrow of separated families.
To relieve their pain, the South Korean Red Cross made a dramatic proposal to the North yesterday in Kaesong that includes monthly family reunions from March to November, repeat reunions for families that have met, monthly confirmation on the addresses of 5,000 families, visits by people over the age of 80 to their birthplace, and affirmation of whether South Korean abductees and prisoners-of-war are alive or not.
Even if the proposal is approved, enabling 100 South Koreans to reunite with family each month, it would take almost 20 years for 24,000 people to realize their dream. The remaining 60,000 people would die before seeing their parents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters again.
Yet North Korea says that there should be just three to four reunions a year, and proposed that reunions proceed together with an exchange of videos and letters through the Internet. But even that will not be possible if the South does not meet the North’s demand for 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer.
This is an outrageous request. But considering the anxiety and pain separated families have endured for the past six decades, it is difficult to take away their hope. How about proposing that South Korea will provide rice and fertilizer aid in proportion to the number of reunions that are held, as West Germany did when it gave aid to East Germany in return for release of political prisoners detained in the East.
Of course, some resistance is expected, along with criticism that we are striking a deal with the country that still refuses to apologize for the Cheonan incident. But we have to remember that this is about relieving the pain of those who do not have many days left. So in this case, a practical solution will be the best course.