December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Syrian boys carry their daily bread ration supplied by the World Food Programme.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Syrian boys carry their daily bread ration supplied by the World Food Programme.James Nachtwey for TIME
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Syrian boys carry their daily bread ration supplied by the World Food Programme.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. A Syrian refugee watches a prefabricated unit being delivered to replace makeshift tents.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. New arrivals from Syria setting up tents supplied by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Recently arrived refugees wait in line to receive basic goods from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. A refugee, who is a carpenter by trade, draws an architectural rendering of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, on the side of his caravan.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Young boys learning the Koran during daily classes in a mosque.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Caravans being delivered to replace tents at the camp.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. This newborn baby boy was delivered by an NGO doctor assisted by a nurse and later by a member of the baby's family.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Boys climb the fences to reach the newly arrived refugees and sell them bread, cigarettes and tea.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. A Syrian refugee uses electric power from the camp grid for a caravan.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. A father and son in a camp tent.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Refugees carry an oven into the camp after bartering or selling goods for it in Jordan.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. A refugee transporting materials supplied by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Materials such as tents, mattresses, blankets, and food are sometimes bartered or sold on the black market outside the camp.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. A view of the camp.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Interior of a camp tent.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Boys living in the camp climb the fence of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' compound where newly arrived refugees are gathered in the early hours of the morning.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Residents of the camp search for a clear cell-phone signal to call Syria.
January 2014. Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. A refugee in one of LebanonÕs unofficial camps builds a wooden frame for a temporary home. Syrian refugees in Lebanon's informal settlements live in makeshift wooden huts covered by tarpaulins of various materials, including plastic sheets given by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as the plastic from billboard advertisements.
January 2014. Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Syrian refugees in Lebanon's informal settlements.
January 2014. Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Syrian refugees in Lebanon's informal settlements.
January 2014. Tripoli, Lebanon. Syrian refugees in Lebanon's informal settlements.
January 2014. Northern Lebanon, near the Syrian border. Syrian refugees in Lebanon's informal settlements.
January 2014. Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Syrian refugees in Lebanon's informal settlements.
January 2014. Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Syrian refugees in Lebanon's informal settlements.
December 2013. Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. Syrian boys carry their daily bread ration supplied by the World Food Prog
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James Nachtwey for TIME
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Syrian Refugees by James Nachtwey

Jan 23, 2014

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.

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