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Unification Ministry nurtures hope for detainees in N. Korea

UK parliamentarians don forget-me-not badge in solidarity with Seoul's efforts on POWs, abductees

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : March 27, 2024 - 15:18

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A symbolic forget-me-not badge is worn at the Unification Ministry on Wednesday. The emblem underscores the right to not be forgotten for abductees, detainees and prisoners of war in North Korea. (Yonhap) A symbolic forget-me-not badge is worn at the Unification Ministry on Wednesday. The emblem underscores the right to not be forgotten for abductees, detainees and prisoners of war in North Korea. (Yonhap)

South Korea's Ministry of Unification has intensified efforts to raise awareness, both domestically and internationally, regarding South Koreans who have been abducted, detained forcibly and held as prisoners of war in North Korea.

At the heart of the campaign is the distribution of symbolic badges adorned with three forget-me-not flowers, both at home and abroad. This emblem symbolizes the "right to not be forgotten" for abductees, detainees and POWs, reflecting the government's unwavering commitment to safeguarding its citizens, according to the Unification Ministry.

The badge distribution campaign was launched in earnest as the Unification Ministry hosted an event Wednesday to present badges to the families of South Korean abductees, detainees and POWs. The individuals have made significant contributions in addressing the plight of their loved ones who have been forcibly detained in North Korea.

During Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and all Cabinet members donned the badges, symbolizing their resolute commitment to repatriate all abductees, detainees and POWs in North Korea back to the loving embrace of their families in South Korea, according to the Unification Ministry.

"Resolving the issues of abductees, detainees and prisoners of war is a significant national duty for protecting our citizens, and it is an urgent matter that doesn't brook a moment's delay," Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho said after presenting the badges.

"The government will make every effort to safeguard the well-being of each and every one of our citizens."

After taking office, Kim launched the Abductees Response Team under the unification minister to resolve the issue of detainees, abductees and POWs in September last year.

South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho (right) attaches a forget-me-not badge to Lee Mi-il, former president of the Korean War Abductees Family Union, whose father was abducted by North Korea in September 1950, during an event Wednesday at the government complex building. (Yonhap) South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho (right) attaches a forget-me-not badge to Lee Mi-il, former president of the Korean War Abductees Family Union, whose father was abducted by North Korea in September 1950, during an event Wednesday at the government complex building. (Yonhap)

Lee Mi-il, the former president of the Korean War Abductees Family Union whose father was abducted by North Korea in September 1950, expressed, "Today feels truly dreamlike to me."

"Despite the saying that things fade away into oblivion as time passes, for us, as the years go by we only immerse ourselves deeper in longing," Lee said, her words strained as she relied on a ventilator.

"To us who have endured decades of suffering due to North Korea, we extend our heartfelt gratitude (to the ministry) for reaching out, comforting us, holding us close and supporting us."

Park Yeon-ok, whose father was abducted by North Korea while fishing near the island of Baengnyeongdo, located near the disputed inter-Korean western maritime border in January 1971, "earnestly pleaded for swift confirmation of his fate."

"Our family was shattered by the abduction of our father. How harshly have we lived through these years?" Park said, her words tumbling out.

"We have resented the reality that the country fails to fulfill its duty of protecting its citizens. However, we still maintain faith in the government and will not lose hope."

Choi Jin-young, the son of Choi Chun-gil, a missionary abducted by North Korea in Dandong, China in 2014, shares his thoughts after receiving a forget-me-not badge from Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho on Wednesday. (Unification Ministry) Choi Jin-young, the son of Choi Chun-gil, a missionary abducted by North Korea in Dandong, China in 2014, shares his thoughts after receiving a forget-me-not badge from Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho on Wednesday. (Unification Ministry)

Choi Jin-young, the son of Choi Chun-gil, a missionary who was abducted by North Korea in Dandong, China in 2014 and has been detained since then, called for the public to remember detainees in North Korea.

Six South Korean citizens, including three missionaries Kim Jung-wook, Kim Kook-kie, and Choi Chun-gil, have been forcibly detained in North Korea since 2013.

"I hope the Unification Ministry will make even greater efforts towards confirming their status or facilitating their repatriation. I would sincerely appreciate it if everyone could remember them once again," Choi said.

The Unification Ministry said that North Korea has prohibited any form of contact or communication with six Koreans and has refused to provide even minimal information, including the survival status of abductees, detainees and POWs, in a statement issued by a spokesperson Wednesday.

"The Unification Ministry expresses regret that North Korea continues to take an irresponsible attitude toward the abduction issue, stating that there is nothing more to resolve or nothing to know," the statement read.

From left: Member of the House of Lords David Alton, Member of Parliament Fiona Bruce and Member of Parliament Geoffrey Clifton-Brown don forget-me-not badges during an event at the Palace of Westminster in London on Tuesday. (Unification Ministry) From left: Member of the House of Lords David Alton, Member of Parliament Fiona Bruce and Member of Parliament Geoffrey Clifton-Brown don forget-me-not badges during an event at the Palace of Westminster in London on Tuesday. (Unification Ministry)

The United Kingdom All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea notably joined the campaign to remember South Korean abductees, detainees and POWs in North Korea.

Member of the House of Lords David Alton and Member of Parliament Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, co-chairs of APPG NK, along with MP Fiona Bruce, on Tuesday wore badges and issued an official statement expressing their full support for the Yoon Suk Yeol government's determination to address the issues.

"We respectively wear the 'Forget-Me-Not' badge as a symbol of solidarity with the Government of the Republic of Korea," the statement read, referring to South Korea by its official name.

"We urge North Korean authorities to immediately release the current South Korean detainees so they can reunite with their beloved family members."