By Francis Markus, IFRC
For the first time in more than three years, hundreds of family members separated since the Korean War, many of them elderly and frail, have met each other in brief reunions, supported by Red Cross Societies on both sides of the divided Korean Peninsula.
The poignant reunions took place at the mountain resort of Mount Kumgang (Geumgangsan) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with more than 100 South Koreans travelling across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone to attend the gathering.
The last reunion of this kind took place in 2010, with attempts to resume the process repeatedly falling prey to tensions between the two Koreas.
South Korea says that of more than 71,000 registered separated family members still alive on its side, more than 11 per cent are in their 90’s, 42 per cent in their 80’s and 29 per cent in their 70’s.
Supported by National Societies on both sides of the divided peninsula, 18 face-to-face reunions and seven video-link meetings have taken place since 1985, involving more than 22,000 people from 4,380 families.
The reunions are divided into two separate rounds, the first expected to end on Saturday, after which a second group of about 360 South Koreans is expected to visit the mountain resort on Sunday to meet 88 elderly DPRK residents until Tuesday.
Live television coverage of the reunion’s first day, showed emotional scenes as relatives who had not seen each other for six decades held each other tearfully, not knowing whether they will get another chance to meet after these few days are over.
Red Cross Red Crescent leaders have consistently said they hope for a more sustainable mechanism for resolving this most painful aspect of the humanitarian situation on the Korean Peninsula – before it’s too late for the many tens of thousands of family members who are still alive.