The man who lived in an airport for 18 years

Matt Lillywhite

The true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri

During his time at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), Mehran Karimi Nasseri saw millions of passengers. But why did he spend 18 years there? And why couldn’t he leave? Let’s discuss the true story of why Mehran spent 18 years in an airport…

It Began With A Revolution In Iran…

Mehran Karimi Nasseri was expelled from Iran in 1979. He allegedly protested The Shah — the leader of the country who was overthrown during the Iranian revolution.
Protest in Iran during the revolutionWikimedia Commons

After filing for asylum in Europe, The United Nations granted Mehran refugee status in Belgium. But that wasn’t good enough. Or, at least, not what he was expecting.

Mehran thought Belgium was a decent country — and expressed gratitude for the opportunity. However, he wanted to settle in the United Kingdom because his mom was from England. It felt like home. Also, the cuisine is wonderful. Who doesn’t love Fish & Chips?

While en route to the UK, his identification papers were stolen. But Mehran didn’t give up and boarded the flight. Upon arriving in London, however, he was refused entry and returned to France on the next available flight.

Mehran Couldn’t Leave The Airport For 18 Years…

Mehran was arrested by the French police. But since he technically wasn’t in French territory by being in the departures lounge, he was allowed to remain in the Parisian airport.

That’s when Mehran’s life at Charles de Gaulle Airport began. It probably felt like a long layover (at first). We’ve all been there. But American, Delta, and United can’t impose anywhere near the level of stress that Memran experienced in Paris.

<img alt="" style="width:100%" src="*lGTHoRMsLyPOmn7-hJQmcQ.jpeg" data-credit="Wikimedia Commons" data-externalurl=""/>Wikimedia Commons

Later, a French court ruled Mehran couldn’t be extradited to Iran or any other country. And he couldn’t enter France. So, he was stuck in the airport for several years with nowhere else to go. But according to media reports, he thrived on the generosity of airport staff, who provided him with free food.

<img alt="" style="width:100%" src="*ZlXcLNUA_tBPJ4sxay-agQ.jpeg" data-credit="Wikimedia Commons" data-externalurl=""/>Wikimedia Commons

A few years later, in 1995, the Belgium government granted Mehran permission to live in the country. He needed to report to a social worker to ensure he was okay. However, Mehran declined the offer to live in Belgium, saying he wanted to live in the UK (as originally planned).

Eventually, France granted Mehran Karimi Nasseri residence. He could finally leave the airport and live a normal life in Paris — or anywhere else in the country. But again, Mehran refused to accept anything other than residence in the United Kingdom.

A Movie Starring Tom Hanks Was Based On Mehran’s Story

Mehran’s stay at the airport ended in July 2006, when he was admitted to a local hospital in Paris. He remained there until January 2007. Mehran was reportedly cared for by a branch of the Red Cross after being discharged. He was then relocated to a shelter in Paris. He still resides there now.

Steven Spielberg approached Mehran Nasseri in 2003. He paid $250,000 for the rights to his life’s story about being stuck in an airport. Although many details were changed, “The Terminal” was released in 2004 and starred Tom Hanks.

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Matt Lillywhite publishes national news and local stories. He can be reached via email at


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