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Refugee Hotel

It was great to see Obama take on a liberal agenda yesterday with promises in his inauguration speech to improve equality for gays and lesbians and to reform immigration policy.

On the topic of immigration, or more precisely one arm of immigration – refugees and asylum seekers fleeing political or religious persecution – have you seen Gabriele Stabile and Juliet Linderman‘s new book Refugee Hotel?

Refugee Hotel is a collection of photography and interviews that documents the arrival of refugees in the United States. Stabile’s images are coupled with testimonies from people describing their first days in the U.S., the lives they’ve left behind, and the new communities they’ve since created.

noticed the work as the book was in planning 18 months ago. Good, now, to see it massaging its message in people’s hands.


The press release details the following testimonies:

Psaw Wah Baw was forced to flee her village in Burma amidst armed conflict. She describes how her family left their village with just five cups of rice, beginning an arduous journey toward resettlement that would take them through Bangkok, Tokyo, Illinois, and Texas.

Pastor Noel fled the civil war in Burundi in 1972 for a refugee camp in Congo. When war erupted in Congo in 1996, Noel was once again forced from his home. He now lives in Mobile, Alabama, and is a central figure in the African refugee community as he pursues citizenship.

Felix joined the rebel army in South Sudan as a teenager but was forced to flee to a refugee camp in Kenya when fighting within the army threatened his life. After long delays and identity theft by a fellow refugee, Felix now lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he works for Habitat for Humanity to assist African refugees in purchasing their own homes.



Refugee Hotel is the latest project by Voice of Witness, a small San Francisco-based non-profit, founded by author Dave Eggers and physician/human rights scholar Lola Vollen.

Voice of Witness uses oral history to illuminate contemporary human rights crises in the U.S. and around the world by publishing book series that depict human rights injustices through the stories of the men and women who experience them. The Voice of Witness Education Program then takes those stories, and the issues they reflect, into high schools and impacted communities through oral history-based curricula and holistic educator support.

Published by McSweeney’s, you can buy Refugee Hotel here.

Read more about the project on FADER and Miss Rosen and TIME LightBox.


View a large PDF of the Refugee Hotel Press Release

Published by McSweeney’s, you can buy Refugee Hotel here.

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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