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The heartbreaking photos of North and South Korean families briefly reuniting

Yonhap via Reuters
Chosen ones.
By Isabella Steger
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Close to 100 South Korean families made the trip to North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort today (Aug. 20) to reunite with their loved ones left on the other side of the border after the Korean War, which ended in 1953.

The reunions are the first since 2015 and the 21st ever, and are part of the agreement signed between the leaders of North and South Korea when they met at a summit at the Demilitarized Zone in April.

Those chosen for the three-day trip were incredibly lucky—some 57,000 people in South Korea with family in the North who registered to take part were not picked, and more than half of the 132,600 people in South Korea who have applied for family reunions have died. Even as relations between Pyongyang and Seoul have rapidly thawed this year, the detente did not come quickly enough for most Koreans separated from their families—the majority of those registered to take part in the lottery for these visits are now over 80, and, as the AP reports, in the past some people had fallen too ill to travel or died just days before their scheduled reunions.

After the short reunion, the families will be divided once more, and almost certain never to see each other again. The reunions, played out in tearful images broadcast across newspapers and television screens over the years, serve as a stark reminder that more than six decades after the end of the Korean War, many are still paying the human price for that conflict. But what keeps the families apart, says Sokeel Park, South Korea director for Liberty in North Korea, is Pyongyang’s “systematic isolation” of its people from the rest of the world.

Below are images of the emotional reunions between parents and children, brothers and sisters, and other relatives after so many years apart.

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
Kim Kwang-ho, 79, prepares gifts like Choco Pies for his family members in North Korea.
EPA-EFE/Jeon Heon-Kyun
Back Min-joon, 92, attends a health check-up in Seoul before meeting his family in North Korea.
EPA-EFE/Jeon Heon-Kyun
Lee Chun-ja, 88, holds her wedding picture to give to her North Korean family at Hanwha resort in Sokcho, Seoul.
Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
A man selected as a participant for a family reunion reacts as he arrives at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho.
Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
South Koreans waiting to meet their North Korean families arrive at the South’s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine, just south of the DMZ in Goseong.
Yonhap via Reuters
Families meet at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort on Aug. 20.
EPA-EFE/O Jong-chan/Pool
Han Shin-ja (R), 99, of South Korea meets with her North Korean daughters, Kim Kyung-sil (L), 72, and Kim Kyung-young (C), 71.
EPA-EFE/O Jong-chan/Pool
Lee Gyum-sum, 92, of South Korea meets with her North Korean son Lee Sung-chul, 71.
EPA-EFE/O Jong-chan/Pool
North Korean Cho Sun-do (C), 89, meets with her South Korean younger sister Cho Hye-do (L), 86, and younger brother Cho Do-jae (R), 75.
Yonhap via Reuters
South Korean Ham Sung-chan (R), 93, meets with his North Korean younger brother Ham Dong-chan (L), 79.

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