News

Private Efforts Continue for Inter-Korean Family Reunions

Kim Young-ja, one of a few South Koreans who have privately arranged reunions with North Korean family, March 19, 2012.
Kim Young-ja, one of a few South Koreans who have privately arranged reunions with North Korean family, March 19, 2012.
Jason Strother

North Korea’s announcement that it will soon launch a long-range rocket has raised tensions and affected reconciliation efforts on the divided peninsula. That includes new rounds of inter-Korean family reunions with South Korea. Hundreds of thousands of relatives have remained separated since the Korean War began, in the early 1950s.

Kim's story

Kim Young-ja was seven-years-old on the eve of the Korean War, in the spring of 1950.  She lived with her grandparents in a North Korean town, just across the border from South Korea.

Kim recalls the day she last saw her mother.

Kim says her mother wanted to take her back home with her to another town. But her grandparents refused, because Kim’s mother had remarried after her father’s death. Kim says all she remembers is seeing her mother cry.

During the war, Kim and her grandparents were separated from her mother. When the fighting ended in 1953, Kim’s town had become a part of South Korea and her mother was still somewhere in the North.

Hope

But Kim never lost hope. In the 1990's she reached out to distant relatives in China. She learned that her mother had passed away, but that she had a half brother who lived in Pyongyang. Because there is no mail or telephone service between the two Koreas, the two half siblings exchanged letters by way of a Chinese middleman who traveled to North Korea.

Some North Koreans are given official permission to travel to China to visit family members. Kim says her brother was too sick to do that. But in the summer of 2011, his wife, Kim’s sister-in-law, obtained a travel permit.

Kim flew to the Chinese border city, Dandong, to meet with this relative she never knew she had. Kim says she hoped she could get answers about her mother’s life since the war.

First meeting

Kim says she had a lot of mixed emotions when she met her sister-in-law. She asked a lot of questions about her mother, but the woman had only met her briefly before she died.
Even though Kim did not get all the answers she hoped for from her sister-in-law, she was still grateful for the opportunity to meet her. She knows it is a chance that most Koreans will never have.

Official inter-Korean family reunions have been on hold since 2010, with no sign of another round on the way. So, left with no other options, a handful of South Koreans, like Kim Young-ja, have decided to arrange them on their own.

Running out of time

According to the South Korean Red Cross, the organization that stages the official reunions, 800,000 Koreans in the south are hoping to reunite with relatives in the North.
But the Red Cross’s Kim Seong-gun says time is running out for most of these people, who are now in their 70s and 80s.

He says, in one year, about 3,600 people die while waiting to be reunited. That comes out to about ten people a day. Kim says he does not know if one country is more to blame for the halt in official reunions. But he says South Korea has repeatedly asked the North to hold more rounds and those requests keep getting rejected.

Red Cross figures indicate that privately arranged family reunions numbered a few hundred per year, a decade ago. But that number has now dwindled, because of the relatives' old age.

Postal connection

Even though most of these people are unable to meet their relatives in person, some are doing the next best thing.

Shin Gu-seo heads an association for divided families that arranges postal exchanges between South and North Korea, through China and Japan.

The 79-year-old says, in the past two decades, he has helped some 400 South Koreans make contact with relatives in the North. And, that includes himself.

Shin says communicating by mail is not the most satisfying way of contacting his brothers and sisters in the North, but considering the risks involved in meeting them in person, this is the best he can get. He says he also sends his family things like warm clothes.

Shin says the letters he sends and receives are most likely screened by the North Korean government. But that does not bother him. He says it is better than no contact at all.
For Kim Young-ja, the woman who met her North Korean sister in law last year, a face-to-face meeting was more than she ever expected.

Kim says, even though she was not able to meet her mother or brother, she still feels lucky. She says she felt a connection with her sister-in-law and that it was a great experience.

But, given the current state of inter-Korean relations, Kim says she doubts that she will have any further contact with her North Korean family again.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs