03/22/2016, 10.37
KOREA
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Families divided between North and South Korea: More dead than alive

Of the 130,838 South Koreans who since 1988 have registered to meet relatives in the northern part of the border 50.4% is now deceased. Since the conservative Lee Myung-bak won the election, in 2008, only four rounds of meetings were held. The price of tensions on the peninsula paid by the weakest.

 

Seoul (AsiaNews) - For the first time since the division of the Korean peninsula, the number of family members separated by the border who are dead outnumber the living. At least with regards the South, given that the North does not supply data on this highly sensitive subject. According to the South Korean Red Cross, responsible for handling family reunifications for the 130,838 South Koreans who since 1988 have registered to meet relatives in the northern part of the border, 50.4% is now deceased.

As for the survivors - a total of 64 916 people - 82.4% are over 70 years of age; 56.6% also exceeded 80 years. Despite this data reflecting the urgency of allowing further meetings, since the presidency of conservative Lee Myung-bak (2008) only four rounds of family reunifications were held.

The last took place in October 2015. These moments are among the most harrowing for Koreans from the psychological point of view: they underline the fact that once the two parts of the peninsula were united and that there were families who have been torn apart by war and division, who for decades they have never been able to see, hear or write to each other.

To take advantage of this opportunity, South Koreans who can prove that they have a living relative on the other side of the border must register with the South Korean Ministry of Unification.  From this macro-list, the Seoul government prepares various lists in order of seniority and degree of kinship: the priority is given to those who are older - but can still bear the physical and mental stress that these reunifications involve - and who has close relatives such as children or brothers and sisters. Given these criteria, they arrive at a list of about a thousand names, and the ministry relies on a computer during a televised lottery to randomly select names that will be included in reunification.

In addition, there are a number of "reserves", who are called up in the event of unforeseen dropouts: Participation in the meetings means automatic exclusion from subsequent lists. The methods of selection applied by Pyongyang and statistics on family members of the North are unknown.

Since the historic inter-Korean summit in 2000 - which was supposed to have institutionalized these meetings- there have been 19 family reunifications, plus seven via video conference. Only 18,800 families have been able to meet.

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