He was known as the “Iranian refugee from Roissy” and his story went around the world until it became a source of inspiration for the film The Terminal, directed by Steven Spielberg. Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who lived for 18 years at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, died on Saturday in terminal 2F of the same place.
Nasseri made his home out of a red bench attached to a window. Between the announcements of flights and the coming and going of the passengers, he could be seen sitting, reading the newspaper, smoking a pipe, writing or listening to the radio. The corner where he spent his days, in Terminal 1, also had a round table and a chair. Surrounded by several cardboard boxes with his belongings, some in plastic bags on a cart.
The particularity of his story attracted journalists from all over the world, to whom he responded calmly in English. They made documentaries, movies and even an opera for him. But his story, which he also captured in an autobiography in 2004, was much more tragic.
He arrived at the transit area of the airport, a public area, without knowing that he would remain there for almost two decades due to a legal and diplomatic limbo. Skinny and with black hair, he was born in 1945 in the Iranian city of Masjed Soleyman, in an oil-producing region in the west of the country, according to his asylum documents. But he sometimes he said he was from Florida. Others, from Sweden, according to the French newspaper Libération in a 2004 profile. The precise story of his life changed as the years passed. His home, on the other hand, remained the same.
Nasseri, who called himself Sir Alfred, lived at the airport from 1988 until 2006, initially due to lack of papers and later by his own supposed decision. Some say he was the victim of a complicated legal system. Others that he was responsible for his fate. According to multiple articles published in the local and international press, he left Iran to study in the United Kingdom in the seventies after the death of his father. His mother was a British nurse whom he tried to find during his journey.
When he returned to his country, the authorities jailed him for protesting against Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi and expelled him without a passport, he said. The following years took him to various countries until he finally obtained refugee status in Belgium. But then he lost —or returned, according to other versions— the precious documents.
He then ended up blocked at the Paris airport, where he created a network of complicity among the workers. “I met him about 30 years ago. He was totally adapted to the place, everyone tolerated him, sometimes we talked to him for five minutes,” Annick Bricou, a 62-year-old Air France layover agent who worked as an airport employee, told EL PAÍS.
“The Man From Nowhere”
In 1990, Nasseri declared on television: “Having a nationality without being recognized by your country is very painful,” according to a compilation of television reports from the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA). “To belong to a nation is to have a reason for living, it is to belong to a society, to a community,” he added.
Two years later, it was still there. It was part of the place. At that moment he remembered his difficult situation, which made him “constantly stressed”.
Nasseri ate at the McDonald’s restaurant in the terminal and used the restrooms to clean himself and shave. Dr. Philippe Barguain, then head of the airport’s emergency service, watched over her health. “Alfred was the man from nowhere. So we had to find something for him, we had to give him an identity. He was neither alive nor dead, he was absent, ”he said in 1992, according to videos collected by the INA.
He was also accompanied by the French lawyer Christian Bourguet, who desperately tried to reconstruct his career so that he could get papers again. When he finally received them in 1999, it was already too late. Nasseri hesitated, he did not know if he would leave the airport and allegedly refused to sign them. He stayed at the airport for several more years, until he was hospitalized in 2006.
Later, he lived in a reception center in Paris. But in September 2022, she returned to the airport, according to Agence France Presse and several airport employees. In Terminal 2F, almost everyone has heard of it. Some knew him in his last days.
“I remember that we reflected with the Red Cross about what we could do. The idea was to find him a place in a nursing home, but it seemed that he did not want to, ”says an employee of the religious service in terminal 2F, who prefers not to give his name. Nasseri, according to his account, was in a very delicate state. He could barely speak.
A security agent who treated him in recent weeks agrees. She “she No, she didn’t even say hello anymore, her feet were very, very swollen, they didn’t close her shoes. She saw that she was in the final phase, ”she says on condition of anonymity.
After his death on Saturday, airport employees received an email announcing his death. The message reminded them of his story and the text was accompanied by an image from the Spielberg film, with the photo of actor Tom Hanks.
On the ground floor of the terminal, a four-seat bench is still cordoned off. No flowers or photos. His media presence had faded. Until today.
With information from El País
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