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Newark, New Jersey, December 2009: A Buthanese refugee is changing his shirt siting on the floor of his room. CREDIT: Gabriele Stabile/CesuraLab

Four years ago, Gabriele Stabile of CesuraLab went out to photograph in the airport hotels of New York, Newark, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles – the five official US ports of entry for approved asylum seekers. The result The Refugee Hotel (originally The Refugee Motel) has been steadily added to since.

The “Refugee Hotels” are today’s Ellis Islands. Places of temporary lodging on refugees’ journeys from where ever “there” was to wherever in America they end up. My intention was to document the moments between two kinds of uncertainty. Refugees come fleeing hunger, they come from forced exile, they come escaping certain death. Some spend years in camps waiting for their ballot to be cast. I spoke to one person who’d waited seven years to talk to me in an anonymous hotel room in Newark, New Jersey. The resettlement process, even with all its difficulties and challenges, must be light years away from the harsh realities of life in a refugee camp. Still, I don´t know what to make of the establishing shot we start their American stories with: standardized hotel chains.’

The Refugee Hotel recently achieved it’s next phase by securing a pre-print agreement with McSweeney’s and raising $6,000 on Kickstarter to publish a book.

This is a fascinating project about immigration because while the lives of the subjects are swept up in global politics, there’s no possibility of them being caught up in the rhetoric of illegal immigration. Quite contrary, these are formerly persecuted people for whom the United States of America hold a real shot at stability.

Perhaps, Stabile’s photographs are of nascent American dreams, or maybe they’re simply the first images of American lives?

Stabile interviews with FADER and Miss Rosen.


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