Separated family members aging quickly
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.