Mild relief for separated families

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Mild relief for separated families

The Korean War (1950-53) left indelible scars on our hearts. Above all, hundreds of thousands of separated families are still struggling to live with painful memories of the tragic war. Among them, a small number of people who moved to the South during the war have been lucky enough to share moments of reunion through occasional inter-Korean meetings.

But another group of separated families is still fighting unbearable grief while watching televised reunions. These are the families of those who were kidnapped by the North Korean military - during and after the war.

The families of people who were abducted after the war have received a modicum of consolation from the government, which has compensated them for their separation. But families with members who were kidnapped during the war have been excluded from government support.

That may now change. In a committee meeting on Tuesday to confirm whether families have members who were kidnapped by the North during the war, the government officially acknowledged that 55 families fall into the category.

Given that approximately 100,000 South Koreans are estimated to have been abducted by the North during the war, the figure may seem insignificant. Yet the government’s decision carries great weight because it is the first time that it has officially verified the families’ status - 58 years after the war.

As a matter of fact, a large number of families with wartime abductees as members have had to suffer direct or indirect discrimination since the war. During the tense Cold War period, many of them had to confront their hard-to-understand stigma as “traitors” - or experience serious human rights abuses by the government or their neighbors. In those days, security authorities didn’t have to consider whether they left the South voluntarily amid the intense chaos of war. North Korea also used kidnapped South Koreans as a means to coerce their families in the South to engage in pro-North activities.

The government’s latest measure hardly relieves the heart-wrenching pain separated families must feel. Still, there is a remote possibility that these families will be able to rejoice in reunion soon.

Regardless, the government must continue its efforts to determine if their family members were really kidnapped by the North or not, let alone confirming whether they are still alive. That’s the only way for the government to alleviate the families’ unceasing torment.
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