Sep­a­rated fam­ily mem­bers ag­ing quickly

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Yi Whan-woo yis­[email protected]­re­

The num­ber of re­main­ing mem­bers of fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by the 1950-53 Ko­rean War is dwin­dling at an alarm­ing level, as nearly 60 per­cent of those pre­vi­ously reg­is­tered with the gov­ern­ment have died, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data.

The num­ber of deaths is ex­pected to ac­cel­er­ate as more than eight of ev­ery 10 re­main­ing sur­vivors are in their 70s or older.

This sit­u­a­tion is prompt­ing the need for both Koreas to or­ga­nize re­unions reg­u­larly ir­re­spec­tive of the po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity at­mos­phere, ac­cord­ing to ob­servers.

A to­tal of 133,353 South Ko­re­ans seek­ing a cross-border re­union have reg­is­tered with the Min­istry of Uni­fi­ca­tion and the (South) Ko­rean Red Cross since 1988. The Seoul gov­ern­ment cre­ated a data­base that year to sys­tem­at­i­cally man­age the di­vided fam­i­lies.

The data now shows that 79,466 or 59.6 per­cent of the peo­ple reg­is­tered have died as of Au­gust this year, leav­ing only 53,887 alive.

The min­istry said this find­ing is se­ri­ous be­cause the num­ber of deaths is in­creas­ing at a faster pace each year. “In the past decades, the num­ber of sur­vivors was much more than that of those who died.”

That changed, how­ever, in Fe­bru­ary 2016 when the num­ber of the dead sur­passed that of the liv­ing at 65,922 to 64,916.

From Jan­uary to Au­gust this year, an ad­di­tional 2,245 peo­ple have died.

“The rate will grow faster con­sid­er­ing many sur­vivors are old and their health is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing,” it added. Some 85.7 per­cent of the sur­vivors are 70 or older. Among them, 21.9 per­cent are in their 70s, 40.5 per­cent in their 80s and 23.3 per­cent in their 90s or older.

“Un­der such cir­cum­stances, the gov­ern­ment sees is­sues as­so­ci­ated with the sep­a­rated fam­i­lies as one of the most ur­gent is­sues on cross-border re­la­tions,” the min­istry said.

Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­is­ter Kim Yeonchul re­cently promised to put sep­a­rated fam­i­lies as a top pri­or­ity af­ter the re­sump­tion of cross-border di­a­logue on is­sues to re­solve the North Ko­rean nu­clear con­flict.

In his TV ap­pear­ance, Sept. 13, to mark Chuseok, Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in vowed to make “all­out ef­forts” to or­ga­nize re­unions in ac­cor­dance with a joint dec­la­ra­tion is­sued by him and North Ko­rean leader Kim Jong-un dur­ing their first summit at Pan­munjeom in April 2018. In a let­ter sub­mit­ted to the U.N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, Py­ongyang ac­cepted Seoul’s call to work to­gether to re­solve is­sues on sep­a­rated fam­i­lies.


An el­derly man wipes away tears dur­ing a con­so­la­tion cer­e­mony for fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by the 1950-53 Ko­rean War in Jongno-gu, Seoul, Sept. 11.

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