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Man gets trapped in an airport for 18 years

For nearly two decades, Mehran Karimi Nasseri lived in Terminal 1 at the airport. The story of how that came to be has garnered international attention and was even the basis for the Tom Hanks film, The Terminal.

For 18 years, frequent travelers through Charles de Gaulle International Airport would have seen a very familiar fixture. But rather than some form of architecture or decoration, that fixture was a person named Mehran Karimi Nasseri. For nearly two decades, Nasseri lived in Terminal 1 at the airport. The story of how that came to be has garnered international attention and was even the basis for the Tom Hanks film, The Terminal.

The background of precisely how Nasseri wound up in this situation has been a matter of debate over the years, especially given that he himself has changed specific details in repeated tellings. However, the generally accepted consensus is that it all began with an attempt to gain political asylum after a bit of trouble in his home country of Iran.

In the early 1970s, Nasseri studied at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, and while he was there, he allegedly participated in student protests against what turned out to be the last Shah of Iran. As you might imagine, the Iranian government didn't particularly appreciate it when they found out. When he returned home in 1977, he was promptly thrown in jail, then later exiled for conspiring against the government.

Nasseri spent years searching for a country in Europe that would grant him political asylum until he finally found a willing helping hand in the United Nations. The Nigh Commissioner for Refugees gave him status as a refugee in 1981. With that status, he was now able to apply for citizenship with European countries, and he planned to head back to the United Kingdom and set up camp there.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, things didn’t go exactly according to plan. While traveling through France, Nasseri lost the briefcase containing his refugee papers. Without them, the United Kingdom had no choice but to turn him back and put him on the next train back to France. Though he was arrested by French police when he returned to the country, he was let go. He hadn't done anything illegal by returning to the country.

The problem was, while the airport constituted an "international" area where he could freely move around, the loss of his papers meant he was unable to leave the airport and enter France proper, or any other country for that matter. His refugee status also meant he was no longer an Iranian citizen. So, he couldn't ever return home if he wanted to (which I think it's safe to say he didn't).

And so, that fateful day in 1988 began what turned out to be an 18-year stay in the airport. During that time, Nasseri used the airport bathrooms to wash, usually ate at the McDonald's in the terminal, and spent most of his time reading and people watching. He received occasional donations but mostly spent his stay passing the time and, eventually, losing hope that anything would change.

Eventually, Nasseri’s situation came to the attention of a French human rights lawyer named Christian Bourguet. Bourguet took up Nasseri’s cause and sought his freedom from his bizarre personal purgatory. He quickly discovered that the big hurdle. Belgium (the nation that initially issued Nasseri’s refugee papers) could only publish replacement papers if Nasseri appeared in person. But, he couldn't travel to Belgium to do so without those same papers. Making matters more complicated, Belgium wouldn’t allow refugees who left the country to return.

After more than ten years of pursuing the matter, Bourguet finally convinced Belgium to mail Nasseri replacement papers in 1999, after which the French provided him a permit to stay in the country. Unbelievably, Nasseri rejected the paperwork because he thought it was fake, refusing to accept them and electing instead to remain in the airport.

This prompted suspicions that Nasseri had gone crazy during his time at the airport. This is not an unreasonable conclusion after such a prolonged exile of this sort. Finally, in 2006, Nasseri had to be hospitalized due to illness, the first time he had left that airport since 1988. He was released in 2007 and was last known to have been living in a shelter in Paris in 2008.

Nasseri’s story is remarkable, both for the duration and nature of his marooning, and it stands to reason that you'd want better accommodations for your trip. Whether you're going to France, the United Kingdom, or anywhere else, you can book into a resort and enjoy all the amenities that will make your vacation one to remember for all the right reasons!

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