Who Was Mehran Karimi Nasseri?

Airports · 4 min read · Nov 29, 2022
mehran karimi nasseri

In 2004, Tom Hanks was featured as an Eastern European man stranded in an airport for 18 years because he was denied entry into the United Kingdom.

The life depicted by Tom Hanks in the movie resonated with several people across many countries as an interesting life, considering many are usually impatient to get out of an airport.

It later became known that some scenes in the movie were based on the real life experience of an actual Middle Eastern man. The man, Mehran Karimi Nasseri, has become fondly known as the man who lived in an airport for 18 years. Here is his captivating story. 


Mehran Karimi Nasseri was born in a small town in Iran to an Iranian doctor and a Scottish nurse. Nasseri spent his early years in this town until 1973, when he first left for the UK.

At the time, Nasseri went to Bradford University in West Yorkshire as a student of Yugoslav studies. During the time that Nasseri lived in the UK for the first time, he fell in love with the place.

A place where Mehran Karimi Nasseri lived at an airport.
Image source: (CC) Docpi/Wikimedia

Return to Iran

After his studies, he promptly returned to Iran. However, Nasseri’s stay in Iran was short-lived. In 1977, he was expelled from his home country for protesting the rule of the Shah.

Following the expulsion, Nasseri decided to apply for refugee status as an Iranian refugee. He unsuccessfully applied to become a refugee in several countries. At long last, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium offered Nasseri refugee status in Belgium.

Refugee status refuted

With Belgium granting Nasseri refugee status, he could settle in other European countries. However, some contest the account by Nasseri that he was a refugee in Belgium. Investigations after the movie indicated that Nasseri had never been expelled from Iran as he had claimed.   

Mehran Karimi Nasseri reading at an airport.

Attempt to get into the UK

After getting refugee status, Mehran Karimi Nasseri decided that his ideal location to settle in was the UK because he was familiar with the place and his mother was British. However, while en route to the country, someone allegedly stole his travel briefcase, and his papers were lost.

Notably, some claim that Nasseri mailed his travel documents to Brussels while traveling on a ferry and his claim that the travel documents were stolen is false.

Whichever the case, Nasseri boarded a London flight without having any travel documents to identify himself. When Nasseri arrived in London, he promptly returned to France on the next flight.

Return to France

However, Mehran Karimi Nasseri was in trouble upon returning to France as well because he had no documents. The French authorities arrested him upon arrival at Charles De Gaulle (CDG) airport.

However, they soon realized that he had no country to return to and that it was legal for him to be at the airport. With this realization, Nasseri began to live in terminal 1 at the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, earning him the name terminal man.

Nasseri and his lawyer

After a long battle of going back and forth with the French authorities, a French human rights lawyer agreed to take his case. In 1992, the French court ruled that he had entered the country legally and could not get extradited. However, the ruling did not allow him to enter France, and he remained stranded at the airport.

Airport in Paris on a clear day.

Belgium’s offer

Mehran Karimi Nasseri continued to live at the airport while his lawyer attempted to get his travel documents issued from Belgium. However, the authorities in Brussels insisted that they could only issue the travel documents if Nasseri presented himself in person.

In 1995, Nasseri obtained permission to travel to Belgium if he would live under the supervision of a social worker. Unexpectedly, Nasseri refused the offer, citing that he wanted to live in the UK as he had originally planned.   

French offer

Later on, France decided to grant Nasseri residence. However, he refused to agree to the residency because the French authorities listed his nationality as Iranian while he wanted to identify as British and go by the name “Sir Alfred Mehran.”

Nasseri’s French human rights lawyer was frustrated by his insistence to refuse to sign the papers in the hope of getting the title “Sir Alfred” but understood his reluctance because he apparently was living a good life at the airport terminal.

Airport terminal in the evening.

End of airport life

Nasseri’s life at the airport ended forcefully in July 2006 when he fell ill. He was hospitalized from July 2006 to January 2007. When he got discharged from the hospital, a branch of the French Red Cross cared for him at a hotel close to the airport, where he stayed until he got transferred to a charity reception center.

Nasseri’s story is compelling. During the time he stayed at the airport for 18 years, he had his luggage by his side. He lived off the generosity of airport workers who were kind enough to provide him with food and reading materials. At times, he would get food from the departure lounge at the airport.

Airport operations

The life story of this Iranian man is truly unique but it also raises questions for an everyday person. How does the airport operate and how do the staff allow a man with no destination reside inside a terminal? Doesn’t he pose security concerns and interrupt regular airport activities? Truth be told, after 18 years Nasseri most likely has himself become a master at understanding how an airport functions from the inside.

If you would like to get a glimpse of airport operations too, Aeroclass has an informative entry-level airport operations course for you to watch. Maybe it will even inspire you to spend some more time at an airport and start a career! Take a peek:

Final Thoughts

Inspired by this life story, the DreamWorks production company paid Mehran Karimi Nasseri for the rights to his story. In the film released in 2000, this Middle Eastern country refugee finally became the Sir Alfred of Charles de Gaulle airport.

The story was later used as inspiration for the movie ‘The Terminal’ in which Tom Hanks played the early life of Nasseri while the other parts of the movie were fictional.

With his unique story, the Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri remains the only person to ever live in an airport for 18 years, and France is the only country with such a history.

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