“What would you do if you were me?” This is the question Taimaa Abazli asked TIME as she held her 13-day-old baby girl in a shabby hotel room in Thessaloniki, Greece. On February 10, 2016, 24-year-old Taimaa fled Syria with her husband and two-year-old son, leaving by foot in the dead of night. She was six weeks pregnant. Over two weeks, they drove through Turkey, eventually boarding a rubber dinghy bound for Greece. She, like the thousands of women who continue to live their lives in spite of such catastrophic disruption, astonish me.
There’s no shortage of heart wrenching photographs from the Syrian refugee crisis, but the pictures that have moved me most are of the delicate, tiny babies: the one born on a rocky beach on the Greek coast; the five-day-old newborn handed from person to person off a raft; the week-old baby wrapped tightly to his mother as she walks for miles along the train tracks in Hungary. What has become of these little people? In the midst of so much chaos, hundreds of babies are being born in Greek hospitals and cared for by families that have nothing but an unknown future.
It was on my maternity leave earlier this year that I recognized how truly magnificent these women must be to keep moving forward in spite of such immense challenges. My own baby girl, Edie, was born in a New York City hospital last January and after a few days in the hospital, we fastened her into her new car seat, hopped in an cab and brought her home. How magnificent, but how hard those first few months can be.
But looking at these photos, all I could think about were the newborn refugees and their mothers. They haunted me. How are these women breastfeeding when they themselves don’t have proper nutrition? How are they sleeping through the night while living outside? How are they ensuring that their newborns are gaining enough weight in that first critical month?
Even though I am the Director of Photography at TIME, and I look at powerful but difficult work every day, it often strikes me that sometimes even the most devastating pictures are not enough to bring attention to a global crisis. That’s why this time, we are approaching this story in a new way.
I have worked with the photographer Lynsey Addario for more than 15 years. Like most of the photographers I work with, I knew her painterly and poetic pictures before I knew the woman behind the camera. Lynsey is a powerhouse—a fierce journalist with a fiery passion to tell the truth about the great injustices of the world. Lynsey is known as a brave war photographer, and has received accolades for her front-line reporting, but day in and day out, she has documented the lives of some of the most voiceless women in the world.
Now, she turns her lens on four babies born to displaced Syrian refugees who are currently living in northern Greek camps.
TIME is launching a year-long multimedia project on the refugee crisis told through the lives of four babies: Rahaf, Heln, Hamida and Faraj. Over the next year, international correspondent Aryn Baker, video producer Francesca Trianni and Lynsey will report on the lives of these babies and their parents as they navigate an uncertain future while searching for home.
Kira Pollack is the Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise at TIME.