Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri, also known as Alfred Mehran, has passed away aged 77 at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where he lived for 18 years from 1988 after being stateless.

A representative from the Paris airport authority reported that Mr Nasseri was in Terminal 2F when he suffered a heart attack around midday on Saturday 12th of November. Whilst police and a medical team attempted treatment, they were, unfortunately, unable to save him, the representative said. (The official was not authorised to be publicly named).

A renowned figure

Nasseri’s complicated history led him to the Paris airport in 1988, where he stayed until 2006, enjoying a certain level of celebrity status amongst passengers and staff alike. He would spend the majority of his time on a red plastic bench in the airport’s Terminal 1, reading magazines, writing in his diary, and observing passing travellers.

Following the announcement of his death, a spokesperson for Charles de Gaulle called Nasseri an ‘iconic character’; indeed, he was famously nicknamed ‘Lord Alfred’ by airport staff.

Iranian refugee, Nasseri is sat Charles De Gaulle airport surrounded by his belongings which include various items in bags
Nasseri sat with his belongings in Charles De Gaulle Airport, 2014 | © Michel Euler

History

Born in Iran in 1945, Nasseri travelled to the UK in 1973 to study at the University of Bradford. As a student, he was involved in protests against the former Shah of Iran, which resulted in his expulsion from his home country when he attempted to return. Nasseri was consequently left without a passport. After many failed applications for political asylum in Europe, he was finally granted refugee credentials by a UN agency in Belgium.

In 1988, Nasseri flew from Brussels to London via Paris; however, he was sent back to Paris by officials as he had lost the refugee passport recently granted to him. After being denied entry into France, Nasseri made the final decision to remain in the transit area of Charles de Gaulle.

Memorialised in Hollywood

Nasseri’s saga served as inspiration for various Hollywood releases, including the 1993 French film ‘Lost in Transit’, an opera by composer Jonathan Dove, and most famously ‘The Terminal’ by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Iranian Refugee Nasseri sits next to a poster promoting 'The Terminal' - a film inspired by him
Nasseri observes a poster of the film he inspired | © Stephane De Sakutin/Getty Images

In ‘The Terminal’, protagonist Viktor Navorski cannot travel back to his war-torn home country and is denied access to the US, so he makes his home in New York’s John F. Kennedy airport. The film concludes as Viktor is granted the documentation he requires in order to return to his home country. Nasseri’s story, however, ends differently.

The end of an era

After gaining a global following during the 1990s, Nasseri was offered official citizenship by both France and Belgium. However, surprisingly, he instead opted to remain in Charles de Gaulle. He told The Associated Press in 1999, “Eventually, I will leave the airport, but I am still waiting for a passport or transit visa”.

Spielberg reportedly paid Nasseri $275,000 for the rights to his life story, and it was this sum which granted him a measure of freedom following his departure from the Paris airport in 2006.

Nasseri reportedly returned to Charles de Gaulle in the weeks before his death.

What do you think of Nasseri’s decision to return to the airport? Let us know in the comments.

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