By Kim Da-ye
All Koreans living on Sakhalin since they were forcefully moved there during the Japanese colonial era will be able to return and settle in Korea permanently by next year, officials said Friday.
The relocation project started after the governments of South Korea and Japan agreed in 1990 to help the Koreans in Sakhalin return to their homeland.
Tens of thousands of Koreans were moved to the Russian island, which was partly controlled by Japan until 1945, for forced labor.
Under the agreement, the Red Cross divided the Koreans in Sakhalin into two groups. The first group includes those who were born or moved there before Aug. 15, 1945, when Korea gained its independence from Japan.
In the second group are their spouses and children.
The Red Cross said all those in the first group will return to Korea by next year.
So far, a total of 4,189 Koreans in Sakhalin moved to Korea under the project. Some of them died here or went back to the Russian island.
About 3,000 of them still live in Korea, designated as "special" recipients of the government's support under the National Basic Living Security Act. They receive basic living expenses, basic senior pensions and medical support.
The agency said about 190 additional Koreans in Sakhalin wish to move to Korea, and the Korean and Japanese governments decided to allow and assist them in this.
This means the relocation of all those in the first group will be complete next year.
Not all from the second group can return to Korea. Korea and Japan will hold discussions to settle this issue, Red Cross officials said.