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In this age of cell phones, instant messaging and e-mail it seems unimaginable to not be able to reach someone almost anywhere in the world. But North Korea’s borders have been closed to communication with much of the outside world since the Korean War more than fifty years ago. Kim Riemland reports on efforts to change that, for the sake of families still torn apart.  

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(Locator: Honolulu, Hawaii)

Seo Kim/Korean-American (looking through pictures): “This is my mother.”

Faded photographs and fading memories are all Seo (SAY-oh) Kim have to remind him of the family he left behind more than five decades ago when he fled North Korea.

Seo Kim/Korean-American (looking through pictures): “This is my mother and my mother’s sister.”

For 55 years, he knew nothing about his relatives, not even whether they were alive. He’d sent letters...

Seo Kim/Korean-American: “No answer, nothing.”

...but because of North Korea’s closed borders, families have been painfully divided for more than half a century.

Seo Kim/Korean-American (looking through pictures): “This is other brother.”

Last year, a friend who was able to visit North Korea…

Seo Kim/Korean-American (looking through pictures): “These are my younger two sisters.”

…brought these pictures and a letter from Kim’s younger sister: rare treasures.

More than 300,000 Korean-Americans live an ocean away from relatives or friends still in North Korea.

Sung Bae/Christ United Methodist Korean Church: “Those people are really anxious to visit North Korea or at least to know about families and friends.”

United Methodist Sung Bae (bay) and his church, Christ United Methodist Korean Church of Honolulu, are working with a national organization to pressure the U.S. and North Korean governments to open the lines of communication –before family ties are forever lost.

Sung Bae: “We try to raise our voice, get together and tell the U.S. government please consider about us. We still really want to visit or know about our family situation in North Korea.”

Seo Kim: “Not easy, though.”

It won’t be easy. But for those who yearn for family connections, it would be worth it.


The organization is called Saemsori. About 1,000 people in the United States have signed up to support its efforts to open communications with those living in North Korea.

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