[Letters] North Korean assistance and separated families

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[Letters] North Korean assistance and separated families

Over the last 12 years, about 2,000 South Koreans reunited with their families in the North. More than 100,000 people submitted applications for the reunion, and more than 44,000 of them have died before finally meeting their loved ones in the North. More than 80,000 applicants are still waiting for a reunion.

At this rate, most of the applicants should give up hope if the current system continues.

North Korea must have noticed public opinion and mentioned the possibility of normalizing the reunion process and even making it a regular event.

To Pyongyang, South Korea must be the “easiest” partner to request aid from. Also, Seoul is trustworthy and reliable, having provided assistance for humanitarian causes. On the surface, linking Seoul’s demand for more reunions with humanitarian assistance sounds plausible and convincing.

However, before we rush to normalize reunions, there are a few fundamental things we need to review. The South Koreans who have actually been able to reunite with their separated families had a great emotional moment at the reunion.

Their regret and sorrow seemed to have cleared after finally meeting loved ones. But many of them suffered from psychological distress for a long time after the reunion, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks and depression.

The painful memories that left a deep wound in their minds were brought back. Some are lamenting that it would have been better if they hadn’t met again. They only miss the families even more when letter exchanges or further contacts were not facilitated after the reunion.

North Korean families also experience struggle after the meeting. According to North Korean defectors, those who met their families from the South also suffer from psychological pain.

They had to go through a strict preliminary education before the reunion and dispose the presents received from their families. Moreover, they are heartbroken when they are unable to keep contact after the reunion.

While regular reunions should also be facilitated, a more urgent and necessary task is to confirm remaining families in both sides. This matter has to be a precondition for Seoul’s humanitarian assistance and should be prioritized in North Korean policy. A database of the relevant information also needs to be maintained.

As we prepare for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, the second and third generations should be able to track their families and relatives.

The Article 16, Clause 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.

Therefore, the issue of separated families is beyond the jurisdiction of the Red Cross or the Ministry of Unification, considering its scale and characteristics.

An organization or a national council that include natives of the five provinces in North Korea, professionals and experts and religious leaders needs to organize to converge various opinions and participate in the development of consistent policies.

Shin Seung-cheol,

vice chairman at the Ten Million Separated Families Council and a psychiatrist.
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