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Seoul North-South Separated Family Policy Studies

Mun Inchul

As of the end of January 2022, there are 46,000 surviving separated families registered with the Ministry of Unification, of which 11,910 (25.9%) reside in Seoul. The number of separated families in Seoul is the second largest in Korea and abroad, and the largest number in a single city. Most of the survivors of separated families are elderly people in their 80s or older, and approximately 3,000 people die every year. In the case of Seoul, a total of 1,009 people died in 2021 alone, accounting for approximately 31% of the country. Considering the aging of survivors and mortality rate, there is an urgent need for the policy of North-South separated families in Seoul.

Among Seoul Metropolitan Government's inter-Korean exchange and cooperation projects, the resolution of separated families is a representative unification and peace policy that directly affects the citizens of Seoul. Resolving the issue of North-South separated families is a major solution for restoring ethnic homogeneity and community, and confirming national identity. And at the same time, resolving the problem of North-South separated families also will heal the wounds and pain of citizens caused by division. In particular, resolving the issue of North-South separated family is also an issue that shows the necessity and justification for unification and peace. As such, North-South separated families embrace a complex meaning that connects the past, present, and future of a divided country. Additionally, North-South separated families is a humanitarian issue and the problem of securing human rights (family rights), and Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea and a world-class international city, represents a great responsibility and role.

According to a survey of 1,500 Seoul citizens, 66.1% of the respondents were interested in resolving the issue of North-South separated families. Also,Additionally, 68.9% of the respondents thought that resolving the problem of North-South separated families was urgent, and 54.3% of those who agreed to the urgency responded chose that ‘confirming life and death’ should be the first issue to be pursued. In addition, 75.7% of the respondents agreed with the necessity of Seoul's policy for separated families, and 66% rated it as beneficial in resolving the problem.

Seoul's active role in resolving the issue of North-South separated families will affect changes in social perception and raise interest in policies of other local governments. Also, the implementation of the Seoul Metropolitan Government's policy on separated families will facilitate the forming and spreading a civic consensus on problem-solving.

In December 2021, the Seoul Metropolitan Government enacted the first ordinance related to North-South separated families. As a capital city, Seoul has an influential capacity to resolve problems, such as symbolism and legitimacy, closeness to citizens, socio-cultural assets, and diplomatic power. Considering the situation of inter-Korean relations and the reality as a local government, Seoul must seek policies that focus on healing and recovering the pain of separated families beyond the , and diplomatic power. Considering the situation of inter-Korean relations must set the five major policy directions for separated families, including “promoting and supporting reunions,” “spreading civic consensus,” “discovering and registering unregistered separated families,” “developing historical and cultural contents,” and “building governance of separated families.”