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Joon aircraft lined up on the ramp at Paris-CDG (Photo: Air France)

Sir Alfred of Charles de Gaulle Airport

Many people anguish at having long layovers at airports. For those that are not very aviation inclined the experience generally borders on a monotony enough to drive them mad. Generally staying at the airport is not something most people look forward too. The pain can be alleviated by spending time at lounges, going shopping, or getting a bite to eat. However, one can only do so much of this.

At some point the airport will become exhausting, those with longer layovers sometimes use the opportunity to leave the airport and explore the city if their passports and visas allow them the privilege. They then eventually make their way back to the airport and carry on with their journey to wherever they were going, willingly spending more than a day or so at the airport is rare. Anyone who is there longer probably isn’t there by choice.

This is where the story Mehran Karimi Nasseri, later known as Sir Alfred Mehran, beings. He spent nearly 18 years living in the departure lounge of Terminal One in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport from August 1988 to July 2006.

A Confusing Story

His story is surrounded by controversy and varying accounts of what actually is true. A lot of it is based on his own statement which ends up being considered less factual as time goes on and more about him is uncovered.

Sir Alfred grew up in Iran to a relatively well-off family and lived a reasonable life. He said however that his Iranian mother was not his real mother. and his real mother was a Scottish woman who he said lived in Scotland when giving his side of the story.

After alleging that he was expelled from Iran for protesting against the Shah he was allegedly given refugee status and decided to settle in the United Kingdom. Allowing him the opportunity to meet whom he thought was his real mother. He also alleged that his family in Iran had also disowned him.

Unwilling Layover

In August of 1988, he got to Charles de Gaulle airport and boarded a flight to the UK where he was detained and sent back to Charles de Gaulle because he didn’t have a passport or any other identifying documents proving his refugee status. He claimed that they were stolen.

Upon his return to France, he was arrested by the authorities and was unable to legally enter France, however, the French authorities finding no law preventing him from being at the airport released him back into the airport where he was to live for the next 18 years. The government wasn’t sure where to deport him too either since he did not have a birth country on record. The authorities stated that once he got his hands on his documents they could sort everything out.

This is how the ordeal began. He found a nice bench to live on and became friendly with airport employees, it’s said that nearly all of his meals were from the McDonald’s at the airport. People who had heard about his trouble also would give him donations of cash, toiletries, and more. He became a sort of celebrity and had supporters all over the world.

Cracks Begin to Grow

As he gains attention some parts of his story begin to fall apart. A French human rights lawyer had taken up his case and a few years later discovered that Sir Alfred’s papers weren’t stolen but Sir Alfred himself had actually mailed them to Belgian authorities while he was in Belgium years prior.

He refused to accept that the papers were his for two reasons. The first reason was that the papers listed him as Iranian, but he wanted to be British. Second, and more peculiar is that he wanted the documents to show his preferred name of “Sir Alfred Mehran” as opposed to his real name Mehran Karimi Nasseri. This all goes back to a time when he reportedly received a letter that mistakenly addressed him as “Dear Sir, Alfred”. From that point on he reinvented himself to go by that name alone.

He would become evasive when asked by people how he could prove he was born in Europe and shunned any suggestion of his Persian ethnicity.

His lawyer felt that Sir Alfred lost his grip on reality. He was granted residency in both France and Belgium but refused to accept it since they listed his birthplace as Iran and had his real name. When asked if he finally wanted to leave the airport and go home to look for his mother in Scotland, Sir Alfred simply stated, “I’m already home.”

Losing Grip on Reality

At this point, he was willingly living in the airport when he could have legally left anytime he wished. As his story continued to gain the attention he was approached by DreamWorks which paid him a heft sum for the rights to his story to make a movie called “The Terminal.” The studio ended up not using his story and the movie was very loosely related to Sir Alfred. This didn’t stop his publicity from reaching all-time highs, however.

He was still telling people that he was waiting for the return of his papers, but the people familiar with his case knew that wasn’t true.

From the many donations he received, the money from DreamWorks, and proceeds from selling his autobiography had accumulated plenty of money to leave the airport and settle down in Europe to live a happy life, but he didn’t do that.

This led to frustration among some of his closest benefactors, the airport doctor and his lawyer. Many speculated that he was so accustomed to his fame and attention that he feared he would lose it if left the airport. If his papers, granted residency, and hundreds of thousands of dollars weren’t enough to make him leave the airport it was unclear what would.

More Cracks in the Story

As he got more attention the cracks in his story continued to grow. It was discovered that in the early 1990s family members and friends visited him at the airport, but he refused to acknowledge their existence.

His alleged expulsion from Iran was also brought into question as no one was able to find clear evidence of his arrest and deportation from Iran due to any involvement in protests against the government.

Furthermore, Sir Alfred’s siblings said that his story of him being an illegitimate child was false and their mother was heartbroken by these accusations in her final years. Many point to his distinct lack of European features as other evidence that his story of having a British mother could be false.

Unwilling Departure

With his story falling apart many wondered that if he were to eventually leave the airport how could he function in society after being away from it for 18 years. The airport doctor said in an interview that he would have to be weaned off the airport as an addict would have to be weaned off drugs.

Time continued to pass and Sir Alfred continued to live at the airport with no desire to leave. However, in the summer of 2006, he was rushed to a hospital for an undisclosed reason. One person who interacted with him at the airport said that Sir Alfred had told him that he was suffering from a brain tumor.

Sir Alfred stayed at the hospital for several months until he was later transferred to a shelter in Paris. His story from then on is largely unknown. It is believed he might still be living in Paris.

Hemal Gosai
Hemal Gosai
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