An Iranian refugee, Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who lived for 18 years in Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and whose intriguing tale inspired the 2004 Steven Spielberg film “The Terminal,” passed away in that same airport. The cause of death, in Terminal 2F, was a heart attack, a representative for the airport. His exact age was not immediately known, but he was in his late 70s.
His days were punctuated by the rhythm of flights and the presence of travelers, whose numbers swelled in the morning and dwindled at night, leaving him mostly alone to sleep on his preferred curved bench. Airport employees would routinely give him their meal coupons, and flight attendants would give him toiletries left over by first-class passengers. The New York Times Magazine noted in a 2003 profile of Mr. Nasseri that he seemed “both settled — and ready to go.”
Why Mehran Karimi Nasseri lived in that airport?
- Early on, he said he was expelled from his homeland for antigovernment activity in 1977 because, as a student in England, he had protested against the government of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. When he returned to Iran, he found himself imprisoned and soon exiled, he said.
- He bounced around Europe for a few years with temporary refugee papers before arriving in Belgium, where he was given official refugee status in 1981. Mr. Nasseri traveled to Britain and France without difficulty until 1988, when he arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport with a one-way ticket to London, a few clothes, about $500 and no passport.
- He told the airport authorities that his papers had been stolen at a Paris train station. Waiving the usual rules, the authorities let him fly to Heathrow Airport in London. But there, British immigration officials refused to let him enter the country, and he was returned to Charles de Gaulle.
- Mr. Nasseri could not prove who he was or offer proof of his refugee status, so he moved into a holding area in the airport for travelers without papers.
- He was there for days, and then weeks and months. As the months turned into years, Mr. Nasseri became trapped in a legal twilight zone. In the 1990s, the French authorities insisted that he was on French soil illegally, but they could not deport him because no country would accept him.