North Koreans and their families in the US have waited 70 years for a reunion. Their time is running out

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By Nicole Chavez, CNN

Michael Roh remembers the tears that rolled down his grandmother’s look arsenic she watched erstwhile President Donald Trump gathering with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on TV.

The value of this unprecedented brushwood in 2018 was beyond governmental for the past 89-year-old woman. It made her face the symptom caused by being separated from her 7 younger siblings who unrecorded successful North Korea.

“I deliberation she started realizing that she had precise small time, and it was ever benignant of thing that ate distant astatine her,” Roh, 30, said of her grandmother, Sinok Koh, who near the state erstwhile she was 19.

New authorities passed past week by the House of Representatives could assistance reunite thousands of Korean American families who person not been capable to spot oregon interaction their relatives successful North Korea since the Korean War began much than 70 years ago. Huge obstacles remain, but the measure offers caller anticipation to families who person witnessed small advancement implicit the past mates of decades and now, galore fearfulness their loved ones won’t get closure successful their lifetime.

Growing up successful Connecticut, Roh’s grandma would prime him and his member up from school, instrumentality them to fencing oregon drums classes and navigator meal for them portion his parents were working. Her endless emotion and dedication to her family, Roh says, matched the sensation of her homemade kimchi and the marinating of her kalbi.

Her beingness revolved astir her children and grandchildren — but she seldom talked astir her beingness successful North Korea, Roh says. In the past fewer years, Koh began opening up much astir her teenage years and showed involvement successful the thought of reuniting with her family. That led Roh, a pupil astatine Harvard Law School, to enactment with Divided Families USA, a radical dedicated to providing closure for aged Korean Americans separated from household members successful North Korea.

The radical has maintained a registry of families impacted for the past respective years with the assistance of assemblage members crossed the country. Volunteers tasked with updating the registry earlier this twelvemonth made interaction with astir 50 families successful cities similar New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, said Paul Kyumin Lee, the group’s president.

Lee believes determination are galore different aged Korean Americans who whitethorn not beryllium portion of the registry. US officials person antecedently estimated that 100,000 radical whitethorn beryllium impacted by the separations, but Lee says those figures are not close anymore due to the fact that galore of those radical person passed away.

While North and South Korea person facilitated much than 20 opportunities for household reunions successful the past, determination is nary authoritative transmission to link Korean Americans with their relatives successful North Korea.

“There’s nary mode of adjacent trying to find retired what happened to their families,” Lee says.

Last week, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Divided Families Reunification Act, which urges the State Department to consult with the South Korean authorities connected however to put reunions for Korean Americans and their North Korean families, including by video. It besides requires the department’s peculiar envoy connected North Korean quality rights to enactment with the Korean American assemblage to place those aforesaid opportunities.

The authorities is present successful the Senate, wherever it has been referred to the Committee connected Foreign Relations.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN the US is acrophobic astir the tragic separation of Korean Americans from their household members successful North Korea, and said the US has raised the contented of separated Korean American families with the North Korean authorities and is engaged with South Korea and Japan successful adjacent coordination connected this issue.

Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York, the pb sponsor of the bill, said successful a connection that the authorities was captious due to the fact that galore of the radical impacted are present successful their 70s, 80s and 90s.

“It’s genuinely heartbreaking that truthful galore person not seen oregon spoken with their loved ones successful decades and we should bash each we tin to facilitate these reunions,” Meng said successful a video posted connected Twitter.

Other administrations took archetypal steps to reunite families

Chahee Lee Stanfield was 4 years aged erstwhile her parent and astir of her siblings near Manchuria for South Korea successful 1945, reasoning her begetter and 1 of her brothers would enactment down to workplace their onshore lone for a fewer weeks.

The 80-year-old retired librarian has not seen them since past and what happened to them remained a enigma for respective decades.

Years aft Stanfield moved to the US for assemblage successful 1968, she learned astir the galore Korean Americans who had been separated from their families successful North Korea since the aftermath of the Korean War. By 1988, she realized that she was 1 of them.

Stanfield’s begetter and her brother, Oong Hee, had moved to North Korea successful 1950. Her father, Sang Moon, ran marathons and became an well-known inspirational speaker, each portion trying to scope the remainder of their household successful South Korea done newspapers, she says.

But helium passed distant earlier she would larn immoderate of that, Stanfield says. She believes her member is inactive alive.

For much than 20 years, Stanfield has urged national officials to facilitate reunions for divided families and founded Divided Families USA, formerly known arsenic the National Coalition for the Divided Families.

She has lobbied successful favour of respective pieces of legislation, including immoderate that were introduced and passed during the Bush and Obama administrations but Korean Americans proceed waiting for the time they tin beryllium portion of a reunion.

While Stanfield tries to stay hopeful, she says those reunions whitethorn request to beryllium virtual owed to the precocious property and wellness conditions of galore of impacted families.

“We are astatine the precise extremity of our lives. Our worst force is time,” Stanfield said.

The clip for thing to beryllium done is passing quickly

Roh and Lee are portion of a caller procreation of Korean Americans committed to continuing Stanfield’s enactment helping divided household members find healing, adjacent if the reunions don’t materialize soon enough.

“The astir urgent happening successful my presumption is that we person to assistance supply closure by helping grounds their stories to the adjacent procreation and their household members successful North Korea truthful that 1 day, we tin present their messages oregon letters to them oregon adjacent their descendants successful North Korea,” Lee says.

Many of those divided household members are older, endure aggregate wellness conditions, unrecorded successful nursing homes oregon are surviving nether the attraction of their big children, Lee and Roh say.

As portion of his enactment with Divided Families USA, Roh, who is present the group’s vice president, spends hours contacting families impacted to update oregon turn the group’s registry.

“Every enactment connected this registry that we person has a story, a communicative of household separation, of symptom from the Korean War,” Roh says. “These radical consciousness disenfranchised and they consciousness precise hopeless.”

In caller weeks, Roh had to bash thing that helium wishes nary different Korean American families waiting for the reunions person to do.

He said goodbye to his grandmother.

Koh was 93 years aged erstwhile she passed distant astatine Connecticut Hospice successful Brandford, Connecticut. She suffered congestive bosom failure, which led to her wellness decline.

As Roh continues mourning his grandmother, helium says it pains him to deliberation that idiosyncratic who devoted her full beingness to serving her household and the prosperity of her children, spent her past years not knowing wherever her household was, whether immoderate of them are inactive live and however are they doing.

“I ever accidental clip is moving retired but present that my grandma passed… yes, clip is moving out,” Roh said.

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