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.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora