Nasseri In the section of the airport where he slept and spent most of his time (2005) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
have reached a point in time where the governmental system is quite organized, having laws in place for every problem that may arise, but from time to time some people tragically end up in loopholes. One such unlucky person was Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who due to a weird turn of events ended up stuck in an airport for 18 years. It had always been debated on how exactly Nasseri ended up in this situation, with different theories arising over the years of his “imprisonment” within Charles de Gaulle International Airport quarters (to be more specific terminal 1).
A problem within the system
In order to get a better understanding of how Nasseri ended up living in an airport for 18 years, we need to go back in time. In 1973, Nasseri became a student in England at the University of Bradford. During his studies, he participated in a student protest against the last Shah of Iran. the Iranian government didn’t take this action kindly, so when he returned back to Iran (his home country) in 1977, he was expelled for his actions overseas. He wondered around Europe until 1981 when he was admitted by the Belgium government.
At which point Nasseri searched for a country within Europe that would grant him political asylum in order to get some help from the United Nations about his situation in Iran. Due to him being exiled, he also received the status as a refugee which allowed him to apply for citizenship within European countries. As he was most familiar with England as he spent his years of studies there, he decided to get British citizenship and live there.
Therefore in 1988, he planned to travel to France and from France to England via plane. Once he reached Charles de Gaulle International Airport, he somehow lost his papers stating his status as a refugee, without these papers, he was not able to enter, neither exit any country. An airport is considered “international space”, meaning that it is not defined as a country, therefore to live or roam you do not need any papers, however, you can’t exist without the proper papers.
Without knowing a single word of French, he was lost and the man tried to make a living until someone would try to help him. From what had been said by the staff working at the airport, he never seemed to have much of an interest to actually leave the airport. He lived by doing small jobs for money within the airport’s quarters and eating at the restaurants within the airport (mostly McDonald's). He washed in the public toilets and spent most of his time watching the people around the airport and reading books.
Christian Bourguet (Source: Medium)
After a few years passed, he lost hope, knowing that his fated to die in that airport, without being able to smell fresh air one last time or kiss the soil. It is imperative to mention that Nasseri was not able to exit the airport, in other words, he was not allowed to go outside. Eventually, Nasseri’s situation came to the attention of a French human rights lawyer named Christian Bourguet. Bourguet took up Nasseri’s cause and sought his freedom from his bizarre personal purgatory. Christian soon discovered the loophole in which Nasseri was stuck. In order for Nasseri to get new papers stating he is a refugee, he had to personally go to Belgium, without being able to leave the airport he would never be able to get those paper, therefore never able to leave the airport.
Nasseri’s mistake that cost him 7 extra years
Christian Bourguet pursued the issue for more than ten years, by finally convincing Belgium in 1999 to send Nasseri the replacement papers. This would have provided him with a permit to stay in France. Surprisingly, once Nasseri received the right documentation, he rejected the paperwork because he thought it was fake, therefore deciding to remain at the airport. At that point, the employers of the Airport thought that Nasseri went crazy from all the years spent inside.
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 got better, he was given the right papers and explained the situation. Nasseri’s story truly defines that even in this “civilized” time that we live in, we are still crazy stuck in a political system that destroys lives without knowing.
Faith dies last
This story had also inspired a great movie called “The Terminal” which represents the sort of life that Nasseri lived within these 18 years. The film came out in 2004, whilst Nasseri was still stuck inside the airport, as he was also interviewed by the creators of the film as well as asked for the rights to use his story. In 2005, he was given over 300,000 US dollars for the rights to use his story.
Nasseri at his “home” in terminal 1 with a poster for the movie “The Terminal” about his story in 2004 (Source: Medium)
Rumors have it that he used the money to finally get his British citizenship and start the life he wanted for two decades.