Eighty nine people from South Korea met their separated families living in the North on the occasion of the 21st reunion of separated Korean families held on Monday at the Kumgangsan Hotel, North Korea. On the second round on Friday, 83 North Korean applicants will meet their separated family from the South. It is fortunate that the April 27 Panmunjom agreement has allowed the resumption of the family reunion in two years and 10 months. However, the way family reunions are held – only for around 100 people at once, and as a one-time event – does never soothe the suffering and agony of those with their beloved families far away.
Time is running out for separated Korean families. According to the separated family information integration system, staring from 1988, a total of 132,603 applicants were registered to meet their separated families as of July. While 75,741 applicants among those registered on the system passed away, 56,862 are still alive and 85 percent of them are in their seventies. In June alone, 316 people died in deep grief and their wish to see their family was never granted. Initially, 93 applicants were given an opportunity to join the reunion, but four people inevitably gave up on a "once-in-a-lifetime" chance due to health issues.
Every year, several thousands of people breathe their last, not being able to see their beloved families. That explains why the reunion of separated families in the two Koreas has to have priority than any other inter-Korean issues. Actions have to be taken to check families’ whereabouts and regularize reunion meetings. Those with any difficulty joining a firsthand reunion should receive any other help with seeing their families. For example, mail exchanging, hometown visit and any other measures should be carried out to relieve their suffering and sorrow.
Little progress in the reunion of separated families is largely due to the North’s lack of dedication. Expectations were growing regarding regular reunions as the inter-Korean relations improved around the time the Panmunjom summit was being held. However, the two sides failed to reach agreement on the issue. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday that he deeply relates to the sorrow and suffering of the separated families as he has also his family away in the North, adding that there is no time to lose. He also commented that the two Koreas should work closer and harder to resolve the issue of separated families. Next month will see the third inter-Korean summit open. It has to lead to ground-breaking agreement over the issue to lessen their deep-felt sorrow.