The Man Who Was Trapped in Paris Airport for 18 Years
I’ll never complain at the airport.
Rude TSA, long lines — give me all of it. It’s nothing compared to the 18-year wait by Mehran Karimi Nasseri in a Paris airport.
Nasseri, or “Sir Alfred” as he more commonly refers to himself, was stuck in Charles de Gaulle International (CBG) Airport from 1988 to 2006. He used airport bathrooms to brush his teeth, usually ate at the McDonald’s in the terminal, and spent most of his time reading and people watching.
Before we go any further, let’s better define what stuck meant for Sir Alfred: He didn’t even get a breath of fresh air for two decades. This story was so crazy that Steven Speilberg directed a film loosely inspired by Alfred aptly titled “The Terminal.”
The question is how, and more importantly, why did all this happen? Easy, bureaucracy.
Two decades in purgatory
Sir Alfred was an Iranian citizen who came from wealthy parents.
However, when Alfred was 27 he protested against the Iranian monarchy in a movement called the last Shah of Iran. This was a bad idea. Alfred was exiled and his citizenship revoked.
As you might imagine, the life of an exiled citizen is not fun. His pool of countries to move to was small and returning to Iran meant certain death. Still, Alfred made the best of it. He wandered around Europe until 1981 when he finally found a country that would give him political asylum: England.
On his trip to Britain, however, Sir Alfred lost his paperwork and identity documents. This was another bad idea. The British denied his entry sending him back to CBG airport in France.
With no paperwork and no citizenship, the French’s hands were tied. They couldn’t admit Sir Alfred into their country nor let him travel anywhere else.
He was stranded.
How the airport drove him mad
Alfred made the best of it. There are worse places to be stranded than the CBG. There’s a doctor's office, several fast food chains and even a post office. It didn’t take long for Alfred to set up shop.
He lived by doing small jobs for money, receiving occasional donations through the mail, or begging for change. Without knowing a single word of French he got by for ten years.
It was around this time that a French human rights lawyer caught onto Alfred’s situation.
After years of legalese the lawyer won. Alfred had his freedom. He was mailed replacement papers in 1999 and the French provided him a permit to stay in the country.
Then something crazier happened (if you can believe that). Sir Alfred rejected the paperwork because he thought it was fake and elected instead to remain in the airport.
I can only imagine how that lawyer reacted. I’m sure his jaw fell to the floor.
So this is a good time to point out that many people were beginning to think Alfred wasn’t all there mentally (if staying in an airport for 18 years didn’t give that away). Some postulate he even lost that initial paperwork purposefully.
I doubt it — but who knows with this guy?
“The truth was that no one knew the whole truth about Alfred, not even Alfred himself. He was born in either 1945 or 1947 or 1953 and claimed to be Iranian, British or Swedish,” wrote Michael Paterniti in GQ in 2003.
He’s told multiple versions of his story and continues to do so with revisionist history.
Where is he today?
In 2006 Alfred was hospitalized due to illness making it the first time he had ever left the airport since 1988. I’m sure the fresh air probably felt like a drug.
Alfred was later released in 2007 and now lives in a homeless shelter in Paris.
While he was living in the airport he released a book detailing his experiences titled “The Terminal Man.” I haven’t picked it up yet because it’s crazy expensive for what it is. And according to reviews it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Still, Alfred did something that no human being will ever do again. I’m not sure if that’s to be celebrated or criticized — but it will be remembered.