Skip to navigationSkip to content

North and South Korean families reunite to say a final goodbye

A South Korean man holds up a photo of his younger brother, a North Korean.
Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji
A South Korean man holds up a photo of his younger brother, a North Korean.
North KoreaThis article is more than 2 years old.

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.

AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun
North Korean residents wait to meet their family members living in the south.
AP Photo/Park Hae-soo
South Korean Park Yang-gon and his North Korean brother Park Yang embrace at a reunion for Korean families.
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
Koreans in Seoul watch a news program on the reunions.
AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun
AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun
91-year-old Kim Seom-Kyung from South Korea reunites with his North Korean son.
AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun
AP Photo/Yonhap, Lee Ji-eun
South Korean Lee Young-shil, 87, meets with her North Korean sister Lee Jong Shil, 84.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.