They live in a legal limbo – thousands of men, women and children stuck in a squalid camp near the town of Idomeni along the border of Greece and Macedonia. Their fate contingent on a new European Union plan that would see most of them deported back to Turkey.

The conditions at the camp, witnessed by TIME contract photographer James Nachtwey, are abysmal. People languish in the mud and the rain. “Conditions there have grown increasingly nasty, with shortages of food, toilets and health care, not to mention beds,” writes TIME’s Simon Shuster. “Spread out on a field where corn once grew, thousands of the camp’s inhabitants have been sleeping for weeks in flimsy tents on top of the mud, often burning plastic and other garbage to stay warm.”

Read next: This 13-Year-Old Girl Stranded in a Refugee Camp Is Praying to Get Out

Nachtwey’s photographs present a harrowing portrait of this new purgatory – a field where hopes for better lives for thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been crushed – echoing some of Europe’s darkest moments.

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

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