Mehran Karimi Nasseri (1945 – 2022) was an Iranian refugee and activist who began living at the basement shopping mall of Terminal 1 at Charles de Gaulle Airport on 26 August 1988 and lived until he was hospitalized in July 2006. He was Stateless from 1977 to 2022. In 2004, he published his autobiography ‘The Terminal Man,’ which was the basis for the 2004 film ‘The Terminal.’ On 12 November 2022, he passed away after suffering a heart attack.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri was born in 1945 (age 76 years; at the time of death) at the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in Masjed Soleiman, Iran. In 1976, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Yugoslav studies at the University of Bradford, UK. Mehran Karimi Nasseri’s father shifted his family to Tehran in Iran from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in Masjed Soleiman. Mehran’s father was suffering from cancer and passed away in 1967. When his father died, Mehran was twenty years old. His mother expelled Mehran from the family after the death of his father and emphasized that she was not his real mother. In a media talk, Mehran once disclosed that his mother told him that his real mother was Scottish. Mehran recalled,
He was, in fact, the bastard son of an affair between his father and a Scottish woman, perhaps from Glasgow, who had worked as a nurse for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In order to protect her husband, who would have been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, she had pretended the Nasseri was hers.”
In 1977, while talking to a media reporter, Mehran Karimi Nasseri said that soon after his mother banished him from her family, he threatened his mother to sue her in court for his father’s property rights. Later, they mutually agreed on the condition that he would receive money from his mother to move to England to pursue his higher studies. He then shifted to the UK in 1973 to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Bradford. During his higher studies, he used to get a monthly stipend, which was suddenly stopped by the UK government after some time. He tried to contact his family members in Tehran but was unanswered. Thereafter, he moved to Tehran to look after the issue but was detained. Iran’s government claimed that he was photographed by some Iranian agents in the UK for protesting against the Shah during the Iranian revolution. His mother contacted and bribed many higher authorities for his release. Later, he was released with his immigration passport with the condition that he would leave Iran forever and would never return. He followed the same instructions and left Iran. He began searching for another country that would accept him as a refugee. Eventually, he decided to search for his birth mother and planned to visit Glasgow.
Hair Colour: Salt and Pepper (Semi-bald)
Eye Colour: Black
Parents & Siblings
His father’s name is Abdelkarim, and he was an Iranian physician. His mother’s name is Simon, and she was a nurse from Scotland. He had four brothers and two sisters. One of his brothers, Cyrus, is a businessman in Tehran. reportedly, all of his brothers and sisters lived in Tehran, Iran. However, one of his sisters lives in Luxembourg, Europe and works as a dentist. One of his siblings worked in a bank, another worked as a chemist, and another worked for state television and radio.
Wife & Children
Mehran Karimi Nasseri was not married.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri fought a long legal battle to get refugee status and asylum in at least seven countries including England and Belgium. He was granted refugee status in 1981 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium. Soon after getting this status, he was allowed to live in other European countries; however, the permission was halted after some time when some of the investigations in his case disclosed that he was never banished by Iran during the Iran revolution. He started living in Brussels soon after getting refugee status and began working in a library where he used to study books and receive social aid. In 1986, he planned to move to the United Kingdom with his saved money and to search for his real mother. However, reportedly, he lost all of his documents in 1988 when his briefcase was stolen by someone on his way to the UK. Thereafter, he failed to show his passport to the British immigration officials at the London airport and returned to France. Later, it was claimed by several media houses that he had already dispatched his documents to Brussels and lied that his documents were being stolen by someone.
Charles de Gaulle Airport as Residence
He was detained by the French authorities soon after he arrived in France. On verification, a French court mentioned in its verdict that he had no country of origin, and he could enter France airport; however, the court denied his entry to France. Eventually, he made the Terminal 1 of the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France his residence. In 1992, he filed a petition in a French court with Christian Bourget, a French human rights lawyer, for Nasseri’s entry to France. The court sentenced in its verdict that his entrance to France was legal, and therefore, he could not be expelled from the airport; however, the court did not allow him to enter France. Consequently, Mehran Karimi Nasseri tried hard to get his documents from Belgium, which wanted Nasseri to present in person to continue the legal procedure. After three years of his application in Belgium, in 1995, he was granted permission by the Belgian authorities to visit Belgium on the condition that he would live in Belgium under the surveillance of a social worker. Nasseri refused the condition and disclosed his desire to settle in the UK. Later, he was granted residency in both Belgium and France. After receiving residency permits from Belgium and France, he was listed as an Iranian by these countries instead of the British, and his name was not written as Sir Alfred Mehran in the official documents. Therefore, he said no to signing the documents. Bourget, his lawyer, mentioned in a media talk that when Nasseri refused to sign the documents, Bourget felt frustrated.
Nasseri’s residency site in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle Airport
He got hospitalized at the end of July 2006, and soon after he left his sitting place at Terminal 1 of the Charles de Gaulle Airport, it was dismantled by the French authorities. He was discharged from the hospital in January 2007 and was looked after by the French Red Cross branch of the airport. Thereafter, he lived in a hotel near the airport for some time. On 6 March 2007, he began living at Emmaus charity reception centre in Paris. Reportedly, he was living in a Paris Shelter till his death in November 2022. It was claimed by the Associated Press that Nasseri had been living at the airport for a few weeks before his death.
The 2004 film The Terminal
Steven Spielberg, the owner of the DreamWorks production company, paid US $250,000 to Mehran Karimi Nasseri in 2003 to own the rights to use Nasseri’s story for his film. The film was inspired by Nasseri’s life, but Steven Spielberg claimed that he did not use the exact story for his film ‘The Terminal’ in 2004.
The poster of the film The Terminal
Tom Hanks portrayed Mehran Karimi Nasseri in the film ‘The Terminal’ in 2004. The character Viktor Navorski in the film was inspired by Nasseri’s life. Reportedly, it was never mentioned by the websites, publicity materials, and the DVDs of the film that the inspiration of the main character of the film was Nasseri. It was confirmed by the New York Times in September 2003 that the rights to use the story of Nasseri were purchased by Steven Spielberg to create his 2004 film The Terminal. In the same year, The Guardian reported in one of its articles that Nasseri received US$250,000 from Steven Spielberg and his company DreamWorks production to sell his story. In 2004, Nasseri was clicked covering the advertisement poster of Spielberg’s film over his suitcase by The Guardian.
Literary Works and Documentaries
In 2004, Mehran Karimi Nasseri released his autobiography ‘The Terminal Man’ along with the British author Andrew Donkin.’ His autobiography was reviewed as brilliant by The Sunday Times. It cited,
Profoundly disturbing and brilliant.”
He was the inspiration for the 1993 French film ‘Tombés du ciel’ which starred Jean Rochefort, a French actor. The film was internationally released with the name Lost in Transit.
The poster of the film Lost in Transit in 1993
‘Flight,’ an English-language opera in three acts, was released by the British music composer Jonathan Dove in 1998. The act was based on the life of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, and it premiered at the Glyndebourne Opera House soon after its release. ‘Flight’ earned the Helpmann Award at the Adelaide Festival Theatre in March 2006. Later, the documentaries such as “The Fifteen-Year Layover,’ which was written by Michael Paterniti, and The Best American Non-Required Reading were inspired by his life. A documentary film Waiting for Godot at De Gaulle was picturised in 2000 by Alexis Kouros. In 2001, Mehran Karimi Nasseri appeared in Glen Luchford and Paul Berczeller’s mockumentary titled ‘Here to Where.’ Later, Hamid Rahmanian and Melissa Hibbard released their documentary ‘Sir Alfred of Charles De Gaulle Airport.’
The poster of the documentary Sir Alfred of Charles De Gaulle Airport
Mehran Karimi Nasseri died on 12 November 2022 at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France after suffering a heart attack.
- His other names were Alfred and Sir Alfred Mehran.
- Mehran Karimi Nasseri followed a non-vegetarian diet. In a media interview, he once disclosed that he liked eating a MacDonald’s egg and bacon croissant for breakfast and a McDonald’s fish sandwich for dinner every day. In the same discussion, he talked about his smoking habits, and his favourite cigarette brand Thai cigarettes. In 2003, a leading media house described his daily routine in one of his editions. It mentioned the choice of his bathroom at the airport. It wrote,
He had his choice of two nearby bathrooms; he preferred the smaller and quieter of the two because it was closer to his bench and had a shower.”
Mehran Karimi Nasseri while shaving his beard
- Mehran Karimi Nasseri never received the chance to watch the film The Terminal in the cinema as he was not allowed to enter France. Reportedly, he was excited about the film and also wished to watch it.
- His family was once interviewed by The Guardian, a leading international media house. During the conversation, his family stated that Nasseri was living a life of his own choice. In one of its articles, The Guardian defined the living area of Nasseri at the Terminal 1 airport in France. It cited,
It was actually two benches pushed together, about eight feet long in total and gently curved, just about wide enough to sleep on if he kept his hands tucked under the pillow.”
- Many media houses reported after his death that Mehran Karimi Nasseri was always spotted reading books, writing his diary, and studying economics for eighteen years by them. Two round red cushion benches were his sitting place. He had his luggage with him, and some employees at the airport frequently fed him and offered him newspapers. He earned many letters of support from noted journalists, who covered his story in their news articles.
Mehran Karimi Nasseri while reading a letter at Terminal 1 Airport in France
- His elder brother, Cyrus, talked about Nasseri’s favourite games in a media conversation in 2004. Nasseri used to live with Cyrus in London during his college days. Cyrus told that Nasseri liked playing table tennis in his childhood and was a very good friend of Cyrus. Cyrus recalled,
He was close to me and we usually had the same friends. We were mostly together. We had a good life. I liked swimming and Merhan used to play table tennis. He was very good at it.”