Korean Reunions

August 20, 2018
Shay Maunz with AP reporting
TEARS OF JOY South Korean Lee Keum-seom, 92, left, weeps with her North Korean son Ri Sang-chol, 71. They met on August 20 at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea.
LEE JI-EUN/YONHAP VIA AP

Dozens of elderly South Koreans are crossing the armed border between the Koreas this week. They are meeting for three days with relatives in North Korea.

On August 20, a South Korean woman named Lee Keum-seom, 92, met with her North Korean son, Ri Sang-chol. It was their first time together since Ri was four years old. He is now 71.

“How many children do you have? Do you have a son?” she asked him, according to the Associated Press. Then Ri showed her a photo of his father, Lee’s husband, who had passed away. The family had been separated while trying to flee North Korea during the 1950-1953 Korean War. Lee’s husband remained with Ri in North Korea when the war ended.

The reunions are part of diplomatic efforts. Officials from both Koreas hope the gatherings will help ease tensions between the two nations. Normally, North Korea does not allow its citizens to visit family members in South Korea. They are also not allowed to them send letters or email. Neither can they call relatives on the phone.

Lee was one of 89 South Koreans permitted to visit family members across the border this week. The South Koreans will spend three days at the Diamond Mountain resort in southeast North Korea. They will return home on Wednesday.

The Koreas started hosting reunions in 2000. Since then, nearly 20,000 people have met relatives across the border. But many more have not seen their families since the war. According to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, there are currently 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans who have relatives in North Korea.