Anchor: During the Korean War, many families were separated across the DMZ, including some families who have since moved to the U.S. At the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, lawmakers invited elderly Korean American members of separated families to hear their wishes to meet their siblings left behind during the war.
Kim Bum-soo has more.
[Sound bite: CAPAC US Congressional Forum on North Korea (June 12/Washington)]
Half a dozen American lawmakers held a forum in Washington with North Korea experts and Korean Americans separated from family members during the Korean War.
At the meeting hosted by the U.S. Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus(CAPAC) on Wednesday, 85-year old Kim Soon-bok testified that she wants to meet her siblings left behind in the North.
[Sound bite: Kim Soon-bok - member, "Divided Families USA," and forum translator]
“I am the eldest daughter in a family of seven. I had five younger siblings. During the Korean War, the young men said they were going to flee for a short time [to avoid conscription] and return. I fled, leaving behind my grandmother, mother and younger siblings and came here.”
“It’s been 70 years since the Korean War, and in that time, I haven’t been able to go to the North even once. So before it’s too late, I want to go one time and meet my younger siblings.”
“I’m so proud to be a U.S. citizen. As a U.S. citizen, I want to go to the North, meet my siblings, have them visit where I live, or if that’s not possible, to exchange letters.”
Chahee Stanfield, Executive Director of "Divided Families USA," said no separated family members ever thought they would never see their family members again."
[Sound bite: Chahee Stanfield - Executive Director, "Divided Families USA" (English)]
"I am almost 79-years old. I am also a divided family member. In 1998, a group of divided family members and I tried to estimate the number of Korean American divided families, we came up with about a hundred thousand."
According to a U.S. congressional resolution introduced in 2015, there were more than 100-thousand estimated divided family members in the United States in 2001.
That number, the resolution says, is dwindling as many pass away. Most surviving members of separated families have health problems due to advanced age.
After the forum, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Chair of CAPAC, told KBS World Radio that if the current denuclearization negotiations allow interim steps, North Korea, as a show of good faith, could allow more interactions between the divided families.
[Sound bite: Rep. Judy Chu - Chair of CAPAC (D-CA)]
“The issue of the divided families has been brought to the forefront in a way that was never done before. I talked to members of Congress afterwards, and they were just very touched by the stories, and it really made an impact on them. I think there will be more impetus to do something about this.”
“We believe that peace is possible on the Korean Peninsula. There are no magic bullets, but we need to engage in diplomacy, we need to maintain political will. There are so many families whose relationships are at stake, but also what is at stake is peace on this Asian peninsula.”
A group of U.S. lawmakers last month submitted a resolution again to the U.S. House of Representatives, calling on the Trump administration and the North to pursue family reunions as a humanitarian priority of immediate concern.
The South Korean government is now considering the inclusion of Korean Americans in family reunion teleconference programs.
Kim Bum-soo, KBS World Radio News.