A group of elderly South Koreans crossed the border into North Korea Monday, during the first day of a week-long reunification event that allowed them to speak with long-lost relatives still trapped in the North who they have not seen since the Korean War. The Associated Press reported that about 90 South Koreans, most older than 70, will reunite with family members for three days; another 300 will do the same between Friday and Sunday. All of these families have been unable to communicate with their family members prior to this event. Attendees reportedly brought photographs of family members who could not attend, and some were at a near-total loss for words after seeing each other for the first time in decades. One 92-year-old mother reportedly asked her 71-year-old son, whom she had not seen since he was 4, “how he grew up without his mom and how his father raised him.” Another woman told her brother that “it would be really good if Korean unification comes. Let’s live together even at least one minute after unification before we die.”
This is the first event of its kind in three years, the Associated Press added. In the past, approximately 20,000 people have been briefly reunited in 20 meetings—but none have seen their family members since. South Korea reportedly believes that family separation is “the largest humanitarian issue” from the Korean War and has worked to expand the meetings, noting that it would be a “shameful thing” if Koreans died without ever again seeing their families. South Korea estimates that 600,000 to 700,000 people still have relatives in the North, and that of the 132,000 that have applied for reunification meetings, 75,000 have since died.