Mehran Karimi Nasseri a Man spent 18 YEARS at the Airport
If you’ve ever had to take a plane somewhere, you probably know how it feels to have your flight delayed by several agonizing hours. But imagine being stuck at the airport for a whopping 18 years! Well, one man didn’t have to imagine at all because that’s exactly what happened to him… Mehran Karimi Nasseri, also known as Sir Alfred Mehran, stayed in Terminal 1 of Paris’s Charles de Gaulle International Airport from August 1988 to July 2006.
Before his 2-decade stay at the airport, Nasseri’s life was nothing out of the ordinary. He was born in Iran in 1943 to a middle-class family, and he had a pretty typical childhood. When he was 30, he went abroad to study at the University of Bradford in the UK, and 3 years later, he went back home. Nothing too special until you find out what led up to his “extended stay” within the walls of a Parisian airport.
Now, it’s kinda hard to get the story straight because Nasseri has changed the details so much. According to him, he’d been exiled from Iran and had his citizenship revoked because of his political views. Yet some sources say that he hadn’t been expelled from his native country at all! Whatever the case, the man asked for political asylum from Iran.
For 4 years, he got nothing but rejections from different European countries. But in 1981, fortune finally smiled upon him, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium granted Nasseri official refugee status. He could now request citizenship in any European country. And after Nasseri had spent several years in Belgium, he decided that he’d move to the UK. His decision was connected with a family secret that sounds like it’s right out of a soap opera.
Basically, Nasseri was already an adult when his mother told him that he wasn’t her real son. It turned out that his birthmother was a Scottish nurse who’d had an affair with his father. This made Nasseri eligible for British citizenship. So, that’s why he decided to get UK citizenship now that he had refugee status. If only he’d known what was in store for him… He set off for the United Kingdom in 1988.
First, Nasseri traveled to Paris where he caught a plane to London. And that’s where things started to get murky. When he arrived at Heathrow Airport, he didn’t have his refugee papers with him! Nasseri claimed that they’d been stolen on a train when he was on his way from Belgium to Paris.
The craziest thing is, nobody could figure out how on Earth the man had managed to get on a plane to London. It was an international flight, and you can’t just fly to another country without a valid passport and visa! Well, whether it was the airport or airline staff, somebody made a huge mistake… So, here he was – in London, but unable to leave the airport since passport control wouldn’t let him through without his papers. I guess they let him fly back to France without his documents because that’s exactly what he did. And, thus, we’ve come full-circle.
Upon his arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport, things really started getting weird. Since Nasseri didn’t have his refugee papers, Parisian passport control authorities also wouldn’t let him leave the airport! He even got arrested and spent some time in the airport jail for attempting to enter the country illegally. But since his situation had no obvious solution, he was released.
Now, usually when a person has lost their papers, they get sent back to their home country since they don’t need a passport to enter. But remember, Nasseri was stateless, so he couldn’t fly home. On the other hand, France wasn’t his country of citizenship and he didn’t have a visa or anything, so he couldn’t enter it without a passport either! That’s how this man got stuck at the airport and made it his new home for the next 18 years.
At first, Nasseri thought that his airport stay wouldn’t last longer than a few days, maybe weeks at the most. But months went by, then years, and the man was still living in Terminal 1. So, how did he spend the next 2 decades stranded in an airport, you might wonder? Well, he mostly stayed on his personal red bench on the restaurant floor reading books and newspapers and writing down his experience in a diary.
His luggage was always by his side, and the airport provided him with everything he needed: bathrooms, showers, and even laundry services! He had his meals in the food court, and he was surrounded by stores. So, when you think about it, whatever he could possibly need was literally a step or two away! Not that I’m thinking about moving to the airport or anything… As for how he had money to support himself all this time, well, for the first few years, he lived on his savings.
But once his story spread around, concerned and generous people started sending him some money. Much later, towards the end of his stay, Nasseri published his autobiography, which also brought him some cash. Besides, he got $250,000 from DreamWorks after they made a movie called The Terminal, which had been inspired by his story. By the way, have you seen this movie? Let me know down in the comments! But all that happened later.
Meanwhile, Nasseri’s story started to attract journalists from all over the world. It turned out that he could potentially receive new papers. But, of course, there was a catch. For Belgium to reissue them, he had to be there in person. It was too risky to send such important documents through the mail. Besides, what kind of address is “Red bench, Terminal 1, Charles de Gaulle International Airport,” ya know? Just imagine this vicious circle: you can’t leave the airport without documents, but you can’t get new documents without leaving the airport. And that wasn’t the only problem.
According to Belgian law, if a refugee leaves the country after they’ve been accepted, they can’t come back. This guy had to be the unluckiest person in the whole world! Well, in 1995, 7 years into his stay at Terminal 1, Belgium agreed to send the necessary documents by mail. On top of that, France even granted Nasseri a residence permit.
But the man was still unhappy because, in his opinion, his new documents were fake! He explained that the UK had given him British nationality as well as the name Sir Alfred Mehran back in 1981. But his new papers were under his birth name, Mehran Karimi Nasseri, and they had his nationality listed as Iranian, which he said wasn’t factual. The documents weren’t the only thing stopping Nasseri from accepting the offer.
First of all, if he agreed to return to Belgium, he’d have to live under a social worker’s constant supervision. What’s more, he was still hoping to head to the UK as he’d previously planned. Nasseri’s longtime lawyer Christian Bourguet, who’d tried to help the stranded man for a staggering 10 years, was stunned to hear that his client was refusing to leave Terminal 1.
You might be thinking, “Why didn’t Nasseri just take the new papers, leave the airport, and then change his name?” Yep, that would’ve been the most reasonable thing to do! But, ya know, you can’t really judge the guy too harshly. I mean, how else can I put it? That much time in an airport would probably make you lose a grip on reality! In a 2003 interview for GQ, Nasseri’s lawyer said that at first, his client was pretty sharp and his story made total sense! But over time, the details started changing and getting mixed up to the point that it became anything but believable.
For example, Nasseri would say he was a Swedish national who got to Iran by submarine! In 2006, Nasseri finally left the airport 18 years after he’d first set foot there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his voluntary choice. He’d gotten sick and was taken to the hospital, where he spent 6 months. After he was released, he moved to a hotel next to the airport.
In 2008, France granted Nasseri freedom, but the still stateless and homeless man has remained in the suburbs of Paris ever since then. How long would (or can!) you stay at the airport before you start losing your cool? Share your thoughts and maybe personal experience down in the comments!
Credit: Bright Side