Mehran Karimi Nasseri was born in 1942 in Iran. His father was an Iranian doctor and his mother was a Scottish nurse working at the same hospital. In 1973, Nasseri went to Britain where he spent three years studying at the University of Bradford. Then he returned to Iran, where he got into trouble for protesting against the Shah. He was expelled from the country in 1977.
He went to Europe and bounced from one country to another, applying for refugee status for the next four years. In 1981, his request for political asylum from Iran was finally granted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Belgium.
Then he decided he wanted to go to England to search for relatives of his mother. He was on his way there in 1988 when his briefcase containing all of his documentary papers and passports was stolen from a train station. Nasseri boarded a plane for London anyway. But when officials at Heathrow Airport found he had no passport, they sent him back to Charles de Gaulle Airport in France. At first, the French police arrested him for illegal entry and wanted to deport him. But because Nasseri had no documents, there was no country of origin to deport him to. French authorities refused to give Nasseri either a refugee visa or a transit visa.
In 1988, he began his 18-year sojourn in Charles De Gaulle Airport.
He took up residence in Terminal 1, where he made a nook for himself. Airport employees, pilots, and stewardesses took pity on him and brought him meal vouchers and reading material. He received regular visits from a local doctor and a priest. He spent his time reading, writing in a diary, and sleeping on a bench surrounded by his luggage and all of his possessions.
Human rights lawyer Christian Bourget began a ten-year battle to rescue Nasseri. He focused on Belgium, where he hoped to reclaim Nasseri’s original refugee documents. But Belgian officials refused to mail them to France. They argued that Nasseri had to present himself in person. However, the Belgian government refused to allow Nasseri to return to Belgium.
In 1995, the Belgian government finally told Nasseri that he could retrieve his refugee documents if he agreed to live in Belgium. Nasseri refused. He was only interested in living in Britain.
In 1999, Nasseri was presented with an international travel card and a French residency permit. With them, he was free to leave the airport, either to take up residency in France or to fly to any other country that would allow him entry. He refused to sign the papers because they listed his nationality as Iranian when he wanted to be listed as English. His stubbornness meant remaining at the airport. By now his apoplectic lawyer suspected that Nasseri had mental issues and was afraid to leave the airport. When contacted about Nasseri’s situation, his family stated that they believed he was living the life he wanted.
His autobiography was published as the book “The Terminal Man” in 2004.
In 2006, Nasseri’s 18-year stay at the airport ended when he was hospitalized. In 2007 he left the hospital and was looked after by the French Red Cross, lodged in a hotel close to the airport. In March of 2007, he transferred to a homeless shelter in Paris where he has apparently been living ever since.
Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks production company paid Nasseri $250,000 for the rights to his story, which they used as inspiration for the movie “The Terminal” starring Tom Hanks.