Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who lived for 18 years in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport died of a heart attack Saturday in the airport’s Terminal 2F. Nasseri inspired the 2004 Steven Spielberg film The Terminal starring Tom Hanks. He died at the age of 76.
“Sir Alfred of Charles De Gaulle Airport”
Nasseri was born in 1945 in Soleiman, a part of Iran that was then under British jurisdiction, to an Iranian father and a British mother. He left Iran to study in England in 1974. Upon his return, he was imprisoned for protesting against the shah and was expelled without a passport.
At the age of 23, shortly after his father died of cancer, his mother informed him that she was not his real mother and was the result of an affair between his father and a Scottish nurse.
Granted refugee status by Belgium in 1981, he tried to travel on to Britain to find his real mother, whom he believed resided in Glasgow. He discarded his identification papers onboard an England-bound ship in the belief he would no longer require them and fell into a stateless limbo.
Known as Sir Alfred Mehran, Nasseri lived in the departure lounge of Terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle Airport from August 26, 1988, until July 2006, when he was hospitalized. His autobiography was published as a book, The Terminal Man, in 2004.
During his 18-year-long stay at Terminal 1 in the Charles de Gaulle Airport, Nasseri had his luggage at his side and spent his time reading, writing in his diary, or studying economics. He received meal tickets and other supplies from flight attendants.
Nasseri is not the only one airport
While Nasseri’s long-time residence inside the Charles de Gaulle airport is a notable story to keep, he was not the only one who survived living for periods of more than a week in airports. Aside from Nasseri, there have been 25 others who have lived inside airports for a long time. The reasons are usually dissenting, asylum seeking, having holiday difficulties, or having trouble with visas and passports.
To date, the longest airport resident is Bayram Tipeli, a Turkish national who lived in the Ataturk Airport for 27 years. The airport closed for commercial passenger travel in 2019, so Tipeli was compelled to leave. He now lives in Sabiha Gökçen Airport.
And there is Denis Luiz de Souza, a Brazilian, who began staying at the São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport in 2000 and continues to be a resident until now.
Aside from the 25 long-time residents of airports, recent long-term airport residents include EdwardEdward Snowden, the NSA leaker, who stayed over a month in a Russian airport in 2013 before getting asylum.
And then there is the story of Sanjay Shah who traveled to England in May 2004 on a British overseas citizen passport. He was declined entry by immigration officials when it was clear to them that he intended to immigrate to England, not just to stay there for a few months as indicated in the passport he carried with him. Ordered to be sent back to Kenya, Shah was afraid of leaving the airport as he already surrendered his Kenyan citizenship. Finally, he was able to leave when British officials granted him full citizenship.
The coronavirus pandemic has also created continuing but unintentional airport residents. The Estonian named Roman Trofimov arrived at the Manila International Airport on a flight from Bangkok on March 20, 2020. Upon his arrival, Philippine authorities ceased to issue entry visas to limit the spread of Covid-19. Trofimov was forced to spend more than three months at the Manila airport until personnel from the Estonian embassy got him a seat on a repatriation flight.
Refuge for the airport homeless?
While many of these involuntary airport residents have wished to leave their temporary airport homes, there are a few who have willingly decided to make airports their permanent residence. For these individuals, the major airports in both the United States and Europe have become — though unceremoniously – a shelter for the homeless and the dispossessed. Very much like Mehran Karimi Nasseri.