North and South Korean families reunite to say a final goodbye

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Korean families separated since the 1950s have gotten a chance to see their estranged relatives for a few hours this week. The reunions, held every few years, mark an upturn in relations between North and South Korea, separated since the Korean War. But for the families involved, the reunions are mostly a chance to bid their relatives a final farewell.

The two governments are holding reunions between Feb. 20 and Feb. 25 for siblings, spouses, as well as parents and their children, from the two states. Once families participate in one of the sessions—which have been held periodically since 1985—they are barred from taking part in another. Aside from this event, families are forbidden from communicating with their relatives across the border. Over 70,000 more Koreans are waiting for a turn to see their estranged family members—spaces are allotted through a lottery system.

Most of the participants in the program are now in their 80s and 90s and don’t expect to be around to see their family members again, even if relations between the North and South improve. As a result, several elderly Koreans in bad health were determined to make the reunion on Feb. 20. An 87-year-old South Korean woman with Alzheimer’s disease did not recognize her sister. A 91-year-old man attended the reunion with an IV drip to see his son who lives in North Korea.

North Koreans wait to meet their South Korean family members during the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. Elderly North and South Koreans separated for six decades are tearfully reuniting, grateful to embrace children, brothers, sisters and spouses they had thought they might never see again.  (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun)  Korea Out
North Korean residents wait to meet their family members living in the south. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun)
South Korean Park Yang-gon and his North Korean brother Park Yang embrace at a reunion for Korean families. (AP Photo/Park Hae-soo)
A man watches a TV news program showing  South and North Korean Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 20,2014.  The letters at a screen read" Group Reunion Meeting". (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Koreans in Seoul watch a news program on the reunions. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean Kim Chang-rock, 90, bottom left, and his South and North Korean family members are taken pictures in a luncheon during the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. Elderly North and South Koreans separated for six decades are tearfully reuniting, grateful to embrace children, brothers, sisters and spouses they had thought they might never see again. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun) KOREA OUT
(AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun)
South Korean Kim Seom-Kyung, 91, left, lies on a stretcher inside an ambulance as his North Korean son Kim Jin Cheon, 66, looks on as he prepares to leave the Diamond Mountain resort due to health reasons, during the Separated Family Reunion Meeting in North Korea, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. Elderly North and South Koreans separated for six decades are tearfully reuniting, grateful to embrace children, brothers, sisters and spouses they had thought they might never see again.  (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun)  Korea Out
91-year-old Kim Seom-Kyung from South Korea reunites with his North Korean son. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun)
South Korean Kim Sung-yoon, 96, left, talks with her North Korean family members during the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun)  KOREA OUT
(AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun)
South Korean Lee Young-shil, 87, right, meets with her North Korean sister Lee Jong Shil, 84, during the Separated Family Reunion Meeting at Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun) Korea Out
South Korean Lee Young-shil, 87, meets with her North Korean sister Lee Jong Shil, 84. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun)
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