PARIS — An Iranian man who lived at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years was clearly inspired by the saga. Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal Authorities said he died at the airport on Saturday, where he had been called home for a long time.
According to the official of the Paris airport, Merhan Karimi Nasseri died of a heart attack in the 2F terminal of the airport at noon. The official said that the police and medical team provided medical aid to him but could not save him. The officer’s name has not been released.
Naseri lived in the airport’s Terminal 1 from 1988 to 2006, running into legal trouble first because he lacked residency papers and then outright by choice.
Year after year, he slept on a red plastic bench, befriended airport staff, showered with staff, wrote in his diary, read magazines and surveyed passing travelers.
The staff nicknamed him Lord Alfred and he became a mini-celebrity among the passengers.
“Finally, I’m going to leave the airport,” he said in a 1999 interview with The Associated Press, smoking a pipe on his bench, looking frail with long thin hair, sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. “But I’m still waiting for a passport or a transit visa.”
Immigration laws and bureaucracy put him in a legal limbo
Naseri was born in 1945 to an Iranian father and an English mother in Sulaiman, then part of Iran, then under British jurisdiction. He left Iran to study in England in 1974, and when he returned, he said he was arrested for protesting the Shah and deported without a passport.
I applied for political asylum in several European countries. The UNHCR in Belgium issued him a refugee credential, but he said his briefcase containing the refugee certificate was stolen at a Paris train station.
The French police then arrested him, but could not deport him anywhere because he had no official documents. I stayed at Charles de Gaulle in August 1988 and stayed there.
The ensuing red tape and increasingly strict European immigration laws kept him in a legal no-man’s land for years.
When she finally received her refugee papers, she described her surprise and disbelief as she left the airport. He reportedly refused to sign them and remained there for a few more years before being hospitalized in 2006 and then living in a Paris shelter.
Those who befriended him at the airport said that years of living in a windowless space had affected his mental state. In the 1990s, an airport doctor was concerned about his physical and mental health, describing him as “petrified in here”. A ticket agent friend compared him to a prisoner unable to “live on the edge”.
Naseri was back at Charles de Gaulle in the weeks before his death, an airport official said.
Nasseri’s mind-bending tale inspired the 2004 film Terminal, starring Tom Hanks, as well as the French film Lost in Transit and the opera Flight.
In Terminal, Hanks plays Victor Navorski, who arrives at New York’s JFK airport from the fictional Eastern European country of Krakow and discovers that an overnight political revolution has invalidated all of his travel documents. Victor is dropped off at the airport’s international lounge and told he must stay there until his status is regularized as the unrest in Krakoja continues.
No survivors were immediately reported.
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