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Staying At The Airport For 18 Years? The Story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri

Picture: History of Yesterday

We all live in a place called home, where we can do whatever we what, decorate it as we like, be comfortable and have all the privacy we need. But have you ever thought about living in an airport? It may sound cool because you get to see planes and lots of different people but living in an airport was not the stuff of dreams for a select few people throughout history.

Not the ideal place to live of course but there are some people who had no choice but to live there. Meet Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the man who lived for 18 years in an airport!

Picture: History of Yesterday

Picture: Hype

Nasseri was born in Masjed Soleiman, Iran, in 1943 and moved to the United Kingdom to study at the University of Bradford in 1973. He reportedly took part in student protests against Iran’s lash Shah, Shah Reza Pahlavi. The Iranian government was not pleased with this move and when he returned to Iran in 1977, he was exiled for his acts abroad. He wandered around Europe until 1981 when the Belgian government accepted him.

Nasseri looked for a country in Europe that would grant him political refuge so that he could seek UN assistance for his condition in Iran. As a result of his exile, he was granted refugee status, allowing him to petition for citizenship in European countries. He decided to apply for British citizenship and relocate to England because he spent most of his education there.

Picture: History of Yesterday

He planned to fly to France and then from France to England in 1988. He inadvertently misplaced his papers declaring his refugee status once he arrived at Charles de Gaulle International Airport; without these papers, he was unable to enter or exit any country. An airport is regarded as “international space,” which means it isn’t classified as a country. As a result, you don’t need any papers to live or roam, but you can’t exist without them. Nasseri asserted that his briefcase, containing his refugee documents, was stolen on a train in Paris. So when he arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport, passport control sent him back to France.

He was adrift without knowing a single word of French, so he struggled to make a living until someone offered to help him. He never seemed to have much of an interest in actually leaving the airport, according to the workers at the airport. He made a living by doing odd jobs for money in the airport’s quarters and eating at the airport’s eateries. He showered in the public restrooms and spent the majority of his time at the airport watching people and reading books.

He had lost hope for a few years, knowing that he would die in that airport, unable to inhale fresh air or kiss the land one final time. It is critical to note that Nasseri was not permitted to leave the airport, i.e., he was not allowed to leave. That was when Nasseri met Christian Bourguet, a French human rights lawyer who decided to take up his case and realize the main problem of Nasseri was not having proper documentation stating he is a refugee.

The Mistake

Christian Bourguet followed the case for over 10 years, eventually persuading Belgium to send Nasseri replacement papers in 1999. This would have granted him permission to remain in France. Surprisingly, when Nasseri obtained the proper documentation, he rejected it because he believed it was forged, opting to stay at the airport. Nasseri’s bosses at the time believed he had gone insane as a result of his years spent within the airport.

At last, in 2006 Nasseri exited the airport by force, as he had to be hospitalized due to illness. That was the first time he went out of the airport since 1988. After he recovered, he was given the proper paperwork and told what had happened. Nasseri’s story exemplifies how, even in this “civilized” age, we are still insanely trapped in a political system that destroys lives without even realizing it.

Picture: History of Yesterday

It may have sounded like a sensible approach to simply sign the paperwork and then have his name legally changed thereafter. However, it turns out that spending years in an airport can have a weird psychological effect on a person. During an interview session, it was said that Nasseri kept changing his story, probably because he was mentally disturbed.

For the rights to utilize his story, he was paid nearly $300,000 in 2005. This narrative also inspired a fantastic film called “The Terminal,” which depicts Nasseri’s life over the course of 18 years. Nasseri was still stuck in the airport when the film was released in 2004, and he was interviewed by the filmmakers and asked for the rights to his story.

In July 2006, Nasseri’s stay at the airport ended when he was hospitalized. That was the first time he went out of the airport since 1988. Towards the end of January 2007, he left the hospital and was looked after by the airport’s branch of the French Red Cross; he was lodged for a few weeks in a hotel close to the airport. On 6 March 2007, he was transferred to an Emmaus charity reception center in Paris’s 20th arrondissement. He has continued to live in a Paris shelter since 2008.

Sources: History of Yesterday, All That Is Interesting, Airport Technology, Hype

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