Merhan Karimi Nasseri (or Nessari) was born in Iran in 1945. His father was an Iranian doctor and his mother a nurse. At the age of 29, Nasseri traveled to Britain to study. While in Britain, Nasseri’s father died and since his parents had never married, his school funding was halted. Forced to return back to Iran, Nasseri participated in protests against the Iranian government. He was quickly arrested and then expelled from Iran without a passport. He traveled around Europe for 4 years seeking political asylum until the Belgium government granted him refugee status in 1981.
Not content with his excellent luck up until this point, Nasseri decided to travel to England to search for long lost relatives and to do some postgraduate studies. Nasseri figured that since his mother was British and he’d done some post graduate work there before, he was entitled to some sort of British citizenship. Unfortunately, in a French train station he was mugged and all his personal belongings stolen including his passport and the paperwork that indicated Nasseri was a refugee living in Belgium. When Nasseri arrived in the Heathrow Airport in 1988 without a passport, authorities captured him and deported him back to France. Upon arriving in France, the authorities there, who also refused to accept him without a passport, had no place to deport him to since there was no evidence of where he should be sent. They also refused to give him a visa.
The Belgian government was contacted and they flatly stated that any refugee who left the country automatically forfeits their rights. From the Boston Globe:
Belgian refugee officials refused to mail his papers to him in France. They argued that Nasseri had to present himself in person so that they could be sure he was the same man to whom they had granted political asylum years before. But, inexplicably, the Belgian government refused at that point to allow Nasseri to return there. And under Belgian law a refugee who voluntarily leaves a country that has accepted him cannot return.
Hence, without a Visa, Nasseri could not step outside of the Charles de Gaulle airport terminal and there he stayed, living in the airport, for the next 12 years.
Nasseri’s Life at the Airport
Nasseri, currently in his mid-50’s, stays in Terminal 1 of the Charles de Gaulle airport. He sleeps on the airport bench and washes up in the airport restrooms before the daily passengers arrive. He spends his free time reading books and magazines, studying economics, and writing in his diary. He doesn’t accept charity but makes it by on food vouchers handed out by the airport personnel.
As word spread, Nasseri began receiving tons of correspondence from well-wishers all over the world. He adapted the pseudonym Sir Alfred when he responded to the letters (apparently in deference to his desire for British citizenship) and the name has stuck ever since. “Sir Alfred” settled in at the airport and is apparently happy with his new life there because in 1999, the Belgian government agreed to send Nasseri his refugee papers – Sir Alfred refused them. Nasseri claims that the Belgian documents refer to him as an “Iranian” which he takes offense to since Iran is what started this whole mess anyway.
He says he must consider his future carefully. He may want to go to Belgium or England, but his eyes really light up when he talks about the airport.
Whether or not Nasseri refuses to leave because of the offensive Belgian papers presented to him, because he feels safe there now, or because he is enjoying his celebrity status, is up in the air. Most agree that after 14 years in an airport, Sir Alfred’s state of mind has definitely gone south.
“He is mentally ill,” Dr. Philippe Bargain, the airport’s medical director, is quoted as saying. Nasseri is no longer capable of making a rational decision (think about that the next time you’re stuck in the airport).
Sir Alfred is still at the Charles de Gaulle airport today although to spice up his life a little he has moved to a different terminal…
Update: In July 2006, Nasseri was hospitalized Several months later he left the hospital and was looked after by the French Red Cross who housed him in a hotel near the airport. On March 6, 2007, Nasseri was transferred to a homeless shelter in Paris, France. His current whereabouts are unknown.