82 pct of family reunion applicants in U.S. or Canada out of reach: unification ministry

SEOUL, The government was unable to reach more than 80 percent of those who applied from the United States or Canada for family reunions with their relatives in North Korea amid speculation many of them could have passed away, officials said Wednesday. The unification ministry conducted a survey last year on 825 family reunion applicants living in North America and confirmed the fates of 146 of them, while 679 people, or 82.3 percent, were out of reach, officials said. Considering that more than 70 percent of the 133,984 family reunion applicants in South Korea have died, many of the applicants in the U.S. or Canada are also believed to have passed away without having a chance to meet with their long-lost relatives. According to the survey, 90.6 percent of the 119 family reunion applicants still alive in the U.S. or Canada said they hoped to determine the fate of their relatives in North Korea, while 84 percent said they were willing to take part in reunions. A majority of 82.8 percent of the respondents said they prefer to reach out to their kin in North Korea through official channels like the unification ministry and the Korean Red Cross rather than civilian channels, which the ministry attributed to the safety concerns of their family members in the North. In the event of a reunion, 28.2 percent said they hoped for the event to take place on "neutral" territory, such as the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom, followed by 17.3 percent who respectively picked Seoul and a reunion facility in the North's Mount Kumgang. Some 11.8 percent said they would prefer a reunion in Pyongyang. The latest survey was conducted by Gallup Korea on behalf of the ministry between July and December last year, with 50.3 percent of the respondents aged 80 and older. The ministry said it conducted the survey in the United States and Canada, where the biggest overseas population of separated families resides. The ministry said it plans to actively consider the feedback of separated families in South Korea and abroad for po licy decisions and carry out a comprehensive survey of separated families this year. The divided Koreas have held 21 rounds of reunions since the landmark summit of their leaders in 2000, bringing together more than 20,000 family members who had not seen each other since the war. The two sides last staged temporary family reunions in 2018. In 2022, South Korea proposed holding talks with North Korea to try to discuss family reunions, but the North has yet to respond to the offer. Source: Yonhap News Agency