Vast Majority of North American Applicants for Korean Family Reunions Unreachable

SEOUL — Efforts to contact over 80 percent of individuals who applied for family reunions from the United States or Canada with relatives in North Korea have been unsuccessful, indicating many may have deceased, according to officials from South Korea's Unification Ministry. The ministry's survey last year targeted 825 family reunion applicants residing in North America but managed to confirm the statuses of only 146, leaving 679 applicants, or 82.3 percent, out of reach. This finding mirrors the situation in South Korea, where over 70 percent of the 133,984 applicants have passed away, suggesting a similar fate for North American applicants deprived of reunification opportunities.

According to Yonhap News Agency, The survey, conducted by Gallup Korea for the Unification Ministry from July to December last year, revealed that 90.6 percent of the still-living applicants in the U.S. or Canada wish to learn the fate of their North Korean relatives. Moreover, 84 percent expressed willingness to participate in reunions, with a preference for using official channels like the Unification Ministry and the Korean Red Cross over civilian means, mainly due to safety concerns for their family members in the North.

Participants also voiced preferences for reunion locations, with 28.2 percent favoring a "neutral" venue like the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom. Other preferred locations included Seoul, a reunion facility at North Korea's Mount Kumgang, and Pyongyang.

This survey is part of the ministry's broader efforts to incorporate the feedback of separated families in policy making and to conduct a more comprehensive survey this year. The divided Koreas have facilitated 21 rounds of family reunions since 2000, reuniting over 20,000 family members. Despite South Korea's proposal for talks on family reunions in 2022, North Korea has yet to respond.

The Unification Ministry's findings underscore the enduring human toll of the Korean Peninsula's division, highlighting the urgent need for renewed dialogue and cooperation to address the reunification desires of separated families.

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