Death Claims Thousands of Candidates for Family Reunions

Some 2,200 South Koreans who were separated from relatives by the division of Korea die every year before seeing their kin in the North again, according to a study.

The Hyundai Research Institute in a report Thursday said around 3,800 of these people died every year since 2003, but only some 1,600 per year had a chance to see their long-lost relatives again.

The average life expectancy of South Koreans stood at 81 as of 2012. In 2003, 21,036 people or 20.3 percent of people separated from their families by the Korean War were older, and in 2013 that number had risen to 37,769 or 52.8 percent.

Between 1988 and 2013, a total of 129,264 people had registered for cross-border family reunions, and 44.7 percent of the applicants have since died. But from 2008 to 2013, the rate of reunions increased just 1.2 percentage points, while the death rate in the group rose 14.1 percentage points.

The institute said there is "a strong chance that most of the candidates will die within 20 years and those over 70 will not live more than 10 more years."

It recommended increasing the number of people selected for reunions to more than 6,600 per year so all of them can see their North Korean relatives again at least once.

Lee Yong-hwa at the institute said, "We need to arrange special reunions urgently for people in their 80 and 90s. The reunion center on Mt. Kumgang should remain open all the time and a wider range of methods like letters and video conferencing should be introduced."

Other experts recommend giving separated family members over 80 priority in being selected for the reunions.

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 21, 2014 11:33 KST