‘Farewell reunion’ a cruel oxymoron

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‘Farewell reunion’ a cruel oxymoron

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At the start of the Seoul Olympics in 1988, a smiling Mrs. Nampo moved to the United States. Her son had emigrated to America in the 1970s and invited her over. A few years later, she came back and met my grandmother, whom she called “mom.” She had been fond of my grandmother when they lived in the same neighborhood, and she told her secret stories.

The stories that my grandmother later shared with us were shocking. Mrs. Nampo had actually visited North Korea when just saying the country’s name gave us chills and reunited with her real mother. But being a U.S. citizen meant being able to visit North Korea at the time. So she gave up her lucrative business, parted with friends and neighbors, and left the country in the hopes of meeting her mother in North Korea. She desperately missed her mother. Since the reunion, she exchanged letters with the family and was saving up for her next visit.

The families reuniting at the Mount Kumgang resort are just as desperate. However, the aftermath for them is so different. Mrs. Nampo was able to reconnect with her lost family. But the government was not very interested in continuing the connections after arranging the reunions. The two-day event included an initial meeting and dinner, individual reunions and a farewell reunion.

The families would be allowed about 11 hours together, unless they arranged other ways of contacting each other secretly. People had slim odds even being a part of the reunions. Even after meeting the family, there is no way to continue communicating. The tragic reality poses a serious human rights issue. If the government thinks it is helping the situation, it is being very rude.

“Farewell reunion” is such a cruel oxymoron. “Farewell” is such a violent word for those families that had been separated for 60 years. Also, the reunion forces them to give up hope of meeting again. In the current system, there is no possibility for them to be selected again. It is brutal. They are suffering more than the Palestinian refugees.

The families also may learn heartbreaking news that would have been better left unknown. Many families suffer more after the reunions. The one-time meeting can make their situations more complex, as many issues can only be resolved through continued communication.

The authorities need to take more steps and continue the connections between separated families. It is about time that South and North Korea wipe their tears together.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page 31

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By CHAE IN-TAEK


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