Separated Families Are Frustrated

Mr. Kim (68 years old) and Mr. Seo (46 years old), residents of a city in South Pyongan Province, made the dangerous trek to a border town, hoping to contact their South Korean relatives. They had met their relatives once before during a Red Cross-organized reunion.

Mr. Kim, who went to North Korea right after the Korean War, wanted to meet his brothers living in South Korea and to tell them about his actual living conditions and his life before he dies.

Mr. Kim risked his life for this opportunity. He knew the National Security Agency was watching. He was afraid.

A while ago, Mr. Kim came into contact with Mr. Shim, a resident of Yangcheon-gu, Seoul and enlisted his help in tracking down his family. Mr. Shim, in turn, turned to the DailyNK for assistance.

Through a telephone conversation with Mr. Shim, Kim explained his situation: “I met my elder brother at an event for separated families, but I was not able to mention even a single word about my situation at all because the National Security agents were watching.”

“We had to take lectures before the event. I had to undergo training about how to respond to my South Korean family members,” said Kim. The training session took place at the Moranbong Hotel in Pyongyang and lasted for a month.

In Mr. Seo’s case, he arrived at a border city to help his father locate his uncle in South Korea. Mr. Seo’s father has also met his brothers living in South Korea through the reunions.

Mr. Seo and his father wanted to ask their relatives to help alleviate the economic hardships of North Korean life. Mr. Seo also reports being unable to speak freely at the reunions due to the presence of National Security agents.

So, Mr. Seo also called on Mr. Shim.

“My family is on a ‘march of tribulation,’ because our crops failed during the last flood and there is no food distribution,” lamented Seo. Seo heard that his uncle in South Korea was well off, so he desperately wanted to ask for economic assistance.

Mr. Shim then approached the Korean Red Cross.

However, Mr. Shim soon learned that the most difficult part would be getting the South Korean families to go along with the plan.

Mr. Kim’s South Korean family refused to even talk with Mr. Shim because they were doubtful about the authenticity of Mr. Shim’s claim.

When Mr. Kim and his wife in North Korea heard that his family didn’t want to talk with Mr. Shim, Mr. Kim begged, saying: “I really want to have a heart-to-heart talk with my South Korean family, just once, before I die. Please allow me to call my brother.”

Mr. Shim contacted Mr. Kim’s family again and pleaded with them to make the call, but again his family in South Korea rejected the idea.

Mr. Kim’s wife fainted when she heard the news.

Mr. Seo’s story had the same ending.

Seo Sun Ae (pseudonym), Mr. Seo’s father’s younger sister, said doubtfully, “I already met my brother at an event for separated families and we can meet again through official channels. I don’t understand why I should meet my brother with the help of a dubious unofficial broker.”

Although Mr. Shim went to great lengths to explain the North Korean situation to Seo Sun Ae, she still remained unwilling.

Other family members of Mr. Seo in South Korea stated, “We’ve heard from him (Mr. Seo’s father) that his family is living very well in North Korea. That’s what they said at the reunion.”

“If my relatives are facing difficulties in North Korea, we would be willing to help them. But, they never said anything about economic hardships. They were so proud of succeeding in life and living very well,” said another relative.

Messrs. Kim and Seo had been secretly living in an acquaintance’s house near the border for around 2 weeks last December hoping for the chance to talk to their South Korean families. Alas, they were forced to go back to their hometown feeling frustrated.

In their last conversation with Mr. Shim, he said that Mr. Kim, upon hearing the news, wept and wished only to send his best regards to his family.

Mr. Seo’s South Korean family told the broker to tell Mr. Seo: “We will meet again at an official family reunion. Wait for it.”

As Mr. Seo heard the message, he mumbled “We won’t need to meet at the reunion. It’s useless.”

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