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Published 2021-10-01
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Lived In The Airport For 18 Years And Never Left The Terminal!

The story of a man living in an airport for 18 years sounds like complete fiction. And yet, it all really happened and inspired Steven Spielberg to make a movie! However, the real events are much more dramatic. While the character played by Tom Hanks was stuck in a New York airport for 9 months, Mehran Karimi Nasseri spent almost 2 decades in Terminal 1 of a French airport! Due to a lack of documents, he was not only denied entry into that particular country. He was also not allowed to leave it and go to another place. Eventually, the airport hall became his home. How did it happen that the man ended up in this place, stopped in "international space" and no country was able to help him? How did he manage to live in the corridors of a crowded airport and where does his story end?

He was always there, for almost 20 years!

It's hard to imagine what life could have been like for a man who never left Terminal 1 at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years. It is even harder to imagine what could have been going on in his head. Every day, hundreds or even thousands of strangers passed him by with indifference. He was left stateless, all alone. The large, in many places glass halls of the airport, whose lights never go out, the uncomfortable chairs, the bustle, the constant rush and nerves of travelers... We feel anxious whenever we have a delayed flight because no one wants to spend extra and tiring hours on hold. Sir Alfred was always there. Every day and every night, since 1988. What was going on in his life before being stuck at the airport? That's also relevant!

Who is the man who has met such an unpleasant fate?

Let's start with the fact that the answer to the question of who is Mehran Karimi Nasseri, or Sir Alfred Mehran (because that is what he wanted to be called for years) is not easy. The truth is that no one knows the whole truth about Alfred, not even he himself. As he told the story, he was born on the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company estate in Masjed Soleiman, Iran, where his father worked as an Iranian doctor. And so, he was raised by a well-placed dad and a woman whom Mehran had always thought of as his mom. That notion later collapsed in ruins. His date of birth is also unclear. Some sources say he was born in 1945, while others say it was 1947 or even 1953.

Everything changed in an instant…

In a wealthy family by the standards of the country, Alfred and his siblings had a rather good childhood. After getting a basic education, he majored in psychology. The life he had begun to crumble when his father died of cancer in 1972. It was then that the woman Alfred thought was his mother told him that he was in fact a bastard child, the result of an affair. For many years, she pretended the boy was her child to protect her husband, whose adultery could have ended in death. It was then that Mehran heard that he had been born to a Scottish woman, possibly from Glasgow, who had been a nurse working for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company for some time. After the death of his father, the young boy was banished by his relatives on the grounds that he was an illegitimate child.

A new life purpose

As he later said, his exclusion from the family may have been related to an inheritance from his father that he felt he was entitled to. However, he did not have any money of his own at the time to fight back by filing a lawsuit. Eventually, they came to an agreement. He was to disappear in exchange for receiving a monthly stipend from the woman. Spurned, he left Iran. He was young, talented, and despite everything had a promising future ahead of him. In 1973, he found himself in the United Kingdom. This direction was no accident. Mehran, who was about 23 years old at the time, had set a goal that one day he would be able to find his biological mother. While there, he began studying Yugoslavian economics at Bradford University. And it was here that the beginning of his wandering began, although he had no idea about it yet...

The events that made him a traitor

One day in 1977, his scholarship suddenly stopped. He tried to contact his family in Iran but to no avail. Because of his poor economic situation, after a few months, he decided to fly to Tehran. According to his account from years ago, he found himself at the site of a political demonstration, and the consequence was detention, arrest, and imprisonment. Marching in protest against the regime of Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran made him a traitor. It was reportedly the woman he had considered his mother for most of his life who then helped him by paying the relevant authorities the appropriate bribes for his release. He was given an immigration passport that allowed him to leave Iran, but it meant he was never to return.

He moved from country to country…

Exiled for anti-government activities and stripped of his nationality, he needed another country to accept him and grant him refugee status. He started with England where he studied. There was another reason. From there it was close to Glasgow - for he still hoped to find his birth mother, although he had residual information about her. He wasn't even sure of her name. Over the years, he appealed for political asylum to at least seven countries but kept getting denied by European capitals. It was only in 1981 that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium finally granted him official refugee status. By then, he had been without a country for about four years. After obtaining his papers, he settled in Brussels, took up studies and a job in a library there, and also received social assistance. Still, his plan was Glasgow, Scotland.

The expedition that took everything away from him

Nearly 7 years passed, during which he saved some money. Finally, around 1988, he decided to leave Belgium in search of the woman who gave birth to him. And this is where the very obscure part of his story begins. In the meantime, Mehran's papers were lost or stolen probably in France. There is also a theory that he himself sent his documentation back to the Brussels office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees because, being on board a British ship, he believed he no longer needed them. While it's not entirely clear what happened at the time, it doesn't change the fact that as he traveled between different countries, he suddenly had no documents with which to identify himself.

There was no place for him anywhere

Before he finally got stuck at the airport in Paris, he encountered many more problems along the way. He tried several times to get to England and each time at passport control was sent back to his country of departure. Twice he was arrested in France because of this. For wanting to enter the country illegally, he first served four and then six months. After his last attempt to get to his destination, when he was released from custody he returned to Terminal 1, where he had already spent a lot of time. He was packed and ready to travel, but there was no place in the world he could go. And so, as a stateless person, alone, without any documents or money, he settled on the terminal, which is an area of the airport that is considered "international space," not belonging to any country. So it was a place where he could stay legally.

The airport has become home

Charles de Gaulle Airport became his home for nearly two decades. He took a couch in the terminal, where he made his lair. He survived with the help of employees who took care of him and provided him with the most necessary things. He had a pillow, blankets, and sheets, carefully covered his bench when he lay down. Next to the place he had taken was stacked all his belongings in suitcases, boxes, and plastic bags. Alfred tried to take care of himself, despite the difficult circumstances. He washed in the public men's room and sent his clothes to the dry cleaners. Cleaners provided him with leftovers from lunches and newspapers, for example. Some travelers stopped by him and left small money or books. He also ate at the airport food court, mainly at McDonald's. He also reportedly did small jobs to earn money, such as helping people with their luggage. When his story broke, some people also sent letters to him, sometimes with money orders.

Helping the man proved to be a great challenge

Finally, after several years, Christian Bourguet, a French human rights lawyer, took interest in his case. However, the situation proved difficult to resolve. The last documents the man had were issued by the Belgian government. To retrieve them, he would have to go to the relevant offices in person. This was impossible because, according to the law, he could not cross any border. In addition, according to Belgian law, a refugee who left the country after being admitted could not return. Finally, in 1999, after almost 10 years, Bourguet won permission from the Belgian government to send the documents, and the French authorities issued Alfred a residence permit. He then recognized that the documents were false. For they were issued in his original name, which he had not used for years. As he said, in the documents he had lost he was already listed as Sir Alfred Mehran. So he did not accept the newly issued ones and remained at the terminal where he had already lived for several years at the time.

Sir Alfred's mind began to deteriorate

The failure to accept the documents, though irrational, had its explanation. Life at the airport began to have a very bad effect on him. Although he initially told his story logically, years later this began to change. Excluded completely from life, trapped, completely alone, and treated like air, he began to lose touch with reality. His story has inspired several films, including the 2004 Spielberg production The Terminal. For the screen rights on his life, Alfred received $275,000. His story at Terminal 1 didn't end until 2006 when he became seriously ill. At that time, he was helped and ended up in the hospital. After hospitalization, his legal situation was finally settled. Although he was not able to get to London or find his mother, he was granted his freedom in France. He was reportedly released from the hospital in 2007 and placed in a hotel near the airport. He came under the care of the French Red Cross and was moved to a Paris shelter, where he has lived since 2008.

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