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Mehran Karimi Nasseri: Inspiration for the Movie “The Terminal”

Readmikenow is a freelance writer who enjoys researching music, movies, history, and more.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri at Charles de Gaulle International Airport

Mehran Karimi Nasseri at Charles de Gaulle International Airport

"The Terminal" Man—Mehran Karimi Nasseri

People who went through Charles de Gaulle International Airport between August 26, 1988, and July 2006 may have seen Mehran Karimi Nasseri. It would have been easy to see him and assume he was just another airline passenger waiting for his flight. When Nasseri arrived at the airport in 1988, his goal was to make his way to the United Kingdom. A lack of documentation and French law left him no choice but to live at the terminal for 18 years.

Early Years

In 1942, Mehran Karimi Nasseri was born in Iran in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company settlement located in Masjed, Iran. His father worked for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company as a doctor. His mother was from Scotland and worked for the same company.


In 1973, Nasseri went to the United Kingdom and studied at the University of Bradford. During this time, he took part in the many protests against the Shah of Iran. The Iranian government was very upset with his participation in these protests.

In 1977, when Nasseri returned to Iran, he was expelled from the country for his participation in the overseas protests. The Iranian government stripped him of his citizenship. This is when Nasseri returned to Europe and wandered around.

In 1981, he was given refugee status by the Belgium government. This enabled him to apply for citizenship with any European country. Nasseri decided he wanted to live in England since he had previously lived there for a few years.

Airport Entrapment

In 1988, Nasseri traveled to France. Once there, he intended to take a plane to England. Once he arrived at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in France, he claimed his refugee papers were stolen. These papers gave him status as a refugee.

He then boarded a plane for London. He was returned by British authorities to France when he was unable to present a passport to British immigration authorities. Nasseri was initially arrested by French authorities when he arrived but was later released. It was determined he had legally entered the country.

Unfortunately, he had no country of origin to return to at the time. Since he didn't have his refugee papers, he was unable to enter or exit any country. The area inside an international airport is considered to be international space. This means it is not designated as being part of any country.

Nasseri could live and roam at the airport without any paperwork. He was just unable to leave the airport without having the proper papers. This is when Terminal One at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport became his home.

French human rights lawyer Christian Bourget

French human rights lawyer Christian Bourget

French Court

Christian Bourget is a French human rights lawyer who took on Nasseri's case. In 1992, a French court ruled that since he did enter France legally, Nasseri could not be forced to leave the airport. The court said it was also unable to give him permission to enter France.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri at airport living area

Mehran Karimi Nasseri at airport living area

Airport Life

When Nasseri began living at the airport, he could not speak a single word of French. He was often viewed as a very lost man. He would try to make a living, and always, someone would try to help him.

The staff working at the airport said that Nasseri didn't seem as if he had much interest in leaving the airport. He did small jobs within the confines of the quarters of the airport. He ate in the restaurants and washed in the public restrooms. Nasseri would often spend his time watching the people who were in the airport and reading books.

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New Documents

There were attempts to have Belgium issue Nasseri new documents. The Belgian authorities refused to do so unless Nasseri presented himself to them in person.

In 1995, Belgium gave permission to Nasseri to travel to Belgium. He had to agree to live there under the supervision of a social worker. Nasseri refused because he wanted to go to the United Kingdom, as was his original intention.

Residency Offers

Belgium and France both offered Nasseri residency in their countries. When presented with the paperwork, he refused to sign them. The papers listed him as being Iranian. Nasseri wanted to be considered British.

He also objected to the paperwork not listing his name as "Sir Alfred Mehran." The refusal to sign these documents caused his lawyer a significant amount of frustration. Nasseri's family was contacted about his situation by authorities. They felt Nasseri was living the type of life he desired.

Movie Inspiration

Nasseri's situation was an inspiration for a movie called The Terminal. It featured Tom Hanks and was directed by Steven Spielberg. It had elements in the movie representative of the life Nasseri had lived during his time in the airport. The movie was released in 2004.

During this time, Nasseri was still unable to leave the airport. The creators of the film spoke with Nasseri for the rights to his story. In 2005, Nasseri was given more than $300,000 by the movie's production company for the exclusive rights to utilize his story in their movie.

The Terminal Man

The Terminal Man


Nasseri teamed up with a British author named Andrew Donkin to write a book about his adventures at the airport. It was released in 2004 and published in several countries, including Germany and the UK. The book is called The Terminal Man.

Forcibly Removed

Nasseri was forcibly removed from the airport in 2006. He was sick and had to be hospitalized. It was the first time he had left the airport in 18 years. In 2007, when Nasseri recovered from his illness, he was given the proper papers. His sitting place at the airport was dismantled.

Nasseri was then taken care of by the French Red Cross. He lived for a few weeks at a hotel near the airport. Starting in 2008, he started living in a Paris shelter for the homeless.


© 2020 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on December 22, 2020:

Louise thanks. Nasseri's story is fascinating.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on December 22, 2020:

Oh that's interesting. I've seen the film, but didn't realise it was based on fact. Interesting!!

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