The Terminal is a movie about a man who lives in an airport for years due to not having documentation or paperwork, and it was loosely based on an Iranian man named Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who lived in France’s Charles de Gaulle Airport for nearly 20 years. He died at the age of 76 in Terminal 2F on Saturday (12).
According to reports, Nasseri lived in the Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years. He was also known as Alfred Mehran and was a stateless person stranded in the airport. Nasseri was born in 1945 in Masjed Soleyman, which was a part of Iran that was under British jurisdiction at the time. His father was Iranian and his mother, British. In 1974, he left Iran to study in England.
Nasseri claims that he was imprisoned for protesting against the Shah upon return, and was expelled without a passport. He applied for political asylum in several European countries, but was rejected. Eventually, the UN refugee agency in Belgium gave him refugee credentials, but Nasseri said the briefcase containing the refugee certificate was stolen in a Paris train station.
He was arrested by French Police, but couldn’t be deported due to not having any official documents. This is how he ended up at the Charles de Gualle airport in August 1988. Further bureaucratic bungling and increasingly strict European immigration laws kept him in a legal no-man’s land for years, an Al Jazeera report stated.
“Eventually, I will leave the airport,” Nasseri told The Associated Press in 1999. At this point, he was described as looking frail with long thin hair, sunken eyes, and hollow cheeks. “But I am still waiting for a passport or transit visa.”
Al Jazeera states that Nasseri lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 to 2006, at first due to a lack of residency papers and later, by choice. Nasseri eventually received refugee papers, but said he was surprised and felt insecure about leaving the airport. He reportedly refused to sign them and ended up staying there several more years until he was hospitalised in 2006, and later lived in a Paris shelter.
He is said to have slept on a red plastic bench, surrounded by boxes of newspapers and magazines. Nasseri used the staff facilities in the airport to shower and spent his time writing in his diary, reading magazines, studying economics and surveying passing travellers.
The toll of living in an airport
As he continued to live in the airport, he became something of a mini-celebrity among passengers, and staff nicknamed him Sir Alfred. However, those who befriended him in the airport said years of living there took a toll on his mental health, and in the 1990s, the airport doctor showed concern about Nasseri’s physical and mental health, describing him as “fossilised” in the airport. A ticketing agent friend compared him to a prisoner incapable of “living on the outside”.
In July 2006, Nasseri’s stay in the airport ended when he was hospitalised and his sitting place dismantled. He left the hospital in January 2007, and the airport’s branch of the French Red Cross took care of him. In March that year, he was transferred to a centre managed by a charity, and in 2008, Nasseri was living in a Paris shelter.
However, recently, he returned to the airport and was living there. A spokesperson is quoted as saying he had “returned to live as a homeless person in the public area of the airport since mid-September, after a stay in a nursing home”. Last Saturday (12), Nasseri suffered a heart attack and despite the efforts of police and medical teams, he passed away around midday.
In 2004, Nasseri wrote an autobiography titled The Terminal Man, which was published under the name Alfred Mehran. The same year, Steven Spielberg released The Terminal, a movie loosely inspired by Nasseri’s story. In it, Viktor Navorski (played by Tom Hanks), a traveller from the fictional country of Krakozhia, arrives at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and learns that a coup d’état has occurred back home.
The US does not recognise Krakozhia’s new government, and Viktor is not permitted to enter the US or return home as his passport is no longer considered valid. Because of this, US Customs and Border Protection seize his passport and return ticket pending resolution of the issue. He becomes a refugee and is forced to live at the airport.
The cast also includes Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, and Zoë Saldaña.
According to The New York Times, Spielberg purchased the rights to Nasseri’s life story through his production company DreamWorks, paying roughly $ 250,000. The movie received positive reviews and earned $ 219 million worldwide.
A spokesperson for the airport said: “The Spielberg film suggests that he was stuck in a transit zone at Paris-Charles de Gaulle. In reality, he spent several stays there, but always in the public area of the airport, he was always free to move around.”