Syrian Refugees by James Nachtwey

Za'atari Camp, in Jordan, run by UNHCR for refugees from war in Syria.
James Nachtwey for TIME
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Syrian boys carry their daily bread ration supplied by the World Food Programme.

The state of being a refugee is temporary, in theory, but without a place to go back to — a nation, a city, a home — limbo begins to look permanent, a designated space carved out of someone else’s country, where the basic needs of physical survival might be provided, but the rights of citizenship are forfeit, and human aspirations lose both their means and their direction.

Refugees are not only sequestered in space, they are incarcerated in time, walled-in between a past that’s been obliterated and a future that no longer exists. But things can get worse. Intense suffering from disease and starvation can render strictures of time and space merely negligible, and what might have been purgatory becomes a living hell. With the refugees from Syria, thankfully, that is not the case.

The international community has responded. Neighboring countries, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, have extended hospitality and NGO’s have organized food, shelter, water and medical assistance. And people have each other. Whole communities have been uprooted and have managed to stay together. But will they ever be able to safely return to Syria? If they cannot return, then how will the rest of the world accommodate not only their basic survival, but meet the challenge of establishing new citizenship, and the opportunities for self-determination inherent in that responsibility, rather than accepting the creation of another stateless people?


James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer, documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues.


Related Topics: , , , ,

Latest Posts

Rosalind Solomon

Picturing the Holy Land: 12 Photographers Chart a Region’s Complexities

This Place is the collective product, nearly a decade in the making, of 12 renowned photographers who each took up residence for a spell in Israel and the West Bank.

Read More
Qin Hao

Meet Panono, the All-Seeing Camera You Toss in the Air

EGYPT. Cairo. 2012.

After the Revolution: Interior Lives in Egypt