The latest reunion between members of divided Korean families, the 21st such meeting since the partition of Korea, took place on 20 August in the Kumgang Mountains. The history of these meetings goes back to 1971, when the South Korean Red Cross Society contacted its sister organization in the DPRK with a proposal for negotiations. This initiative was related to the desire to help families in both the North and the South who had been split up by the war, and who frequently didn’t even know if their relatives across the border were still alive. However the first fruits of the initiative only appeared 14 years later, when the two parties finally managed to agree on an exchange of visits. From 20-23 September, 1985, groups made up of members of divided families, together with arts ensembles from both South and North Korea made visits to Seoul and Pyongyang. 35 people from South Korea, and 30 from North Korea, took part in this historic meeting. Of course, these figures are very small compared to the total number of people whose families were divided – it is estimated that, at the time of that reunion, there were about 10 million people in this situation.
It took another 15 years for these reunions to become a regular event. On 15 June, 2000, at the first summit between the two Koreas the two sides agreed to address a range of humanitarian problems as soon as possible, including the question of reuniting divided families. The first round of reunions was held in August that year. They subsequently became a regular event, taking place 2 or 3 times a year, up until 2007. However, no such reunions took place in 2008, and only one occurred in 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2015. In addition to face-to-face reunions, 7 videoconferences were held between 2005 and 2007. Clearly, the holding of the reunions depended on the relations between North and South Korea.
On August 4 this year, the two countries exchanged final lists of participants in family reunions. These lists contained the names of 122 people from each country, selected from preliminary shortlists agreed in July.
The reunions themselves took place in two stages, from 20-26 August. Over the course of three days, each participant was able to speak in informal surroundings to their relatives from across the border for a total of 11 hours.