The number of surviving South Koreans registered as eligible for meetings with North Korean family members divided by the Korean War continued to drop steadily in 2017 with less than 60,000 remaining, according to statistics published by the Ministry of Unification (MOU) in January.
While 2017 witnessed 194 new applicants, a total of 3797 of the existing registered members also passed away, according to the monthly compilation of statistics.
While there exists a minor single digit discrepancy between the annual and compiled monthly data, according to the MoU 59,037 South Korean nationals remain on the list as of December 31, 2017. The decline is likely to continue with an increasingly aging population of registered participants.
A total of 61.7 percent of those on the registered list as of December 31 are 80 or older, with 18.9 percent – or 11,183 people – aged 90 or over. Of the over 72,300 people on the register who have passed away, 67 percent were 80 or older at the time.
Only 15 percent of individuals on the register are 69 or younger, a drop of 1.2 percent on 2017.
The family reunions are arranged by Red Cross representatives in both countries however they are contingent on inter-Korean relations and the cooperation of both the North and South Korean governments.
South Koreans on the list are chosen via a computerized lottery system, and those lucky enough to be able to meet separated family members describe it as an emotional and overwhelming experience.
Given a breakdown in inter-Korean relations over the last two years, the last separated family reunion organized took place over three days in October of 2015. By the end of October 2015, over 66,000 people remained on the list of eligible participants compared to the just over 59,000 today.
Those on the register for reunions may be buoyed by the staging of the first high-level inter-Korean meeting since December 2015, which took place in Panmunjom on Tuesday.
While there was no reference to family reunions in the joint-statement that followed Tuesday’s discussions, South Korean authorities proposed the two Koreas hold “Red Cross talks” on the possibility of organizing reunions during the Lunar New Year in February.
But the organization of such an event in February may prove difficult given that North Korean state media has previously said reunions would not take place until South Korea returns 13 defectors that currently reside in the South.
This includes 12 female North Korean restaurant workers who arrived in South Korea in April of 2016 and Kim Ryon Hui – who wishes to return to her homeland after mistakenly going to South Korea in 2011.
South Korea says that the 12 China-based workers left in a voluntary mass defection, but North Korea contends that they were abducted by the South Korean authorities.
“Until this problem is solved, any humanitarian cooperation projects, including family reunions… can never be realized,” the article published by DPRK Today on June 2017 reads.
A total 131,344 South Koreans have been registered on the list since 1988 and the number of surviving North Koreans eligible for reunions is not known.
Featured Image: South Korean government
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