August 1, 2003

La Prensa Persa

Editors Note: The biweekly column of La Prensa Persa (The Persian Press), is an opportunity for members of the middle-eastern communities to communicate and talk about the many issues facing them, immigration law, civil and constitutional rights to name a few, which not only impact that community but also impact the Hispanic community.

“I am a citizen of Charles De Gaulle Airport”

By Kathy Hadizadeh

Every one of us is born with a certain nationality. This concept is always so taken for granted that we even do not think about it. Yet, can you imagine a day without it? A day when you are lost without any proof to prove your nationality? How would you feel? May be as hallow as a hole, may be as free as a bird! No one can say how one would feel better than Mehran Karimi Nasseri.

It was 1988 when Mehran left Iran for London, thinking of seeking asylum in United Kingdom. The young Mehran, a mathematics student back then, enters Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport on his way to London. During his short flight change in CDG, someone steals his handbag containing all of his documents. Mehran sees no alternative but to catch his flight to London and hope that officers at London airport would understand his case. But not having any papers even a passport, he is returned to CDG. French government does not let him enter its soil and arrests him for illegal entry. Yet, as he has no passport, they cannot deport him to his original land as well.

A human rights lawyer takes his case and the immigration process starts in real world. Yet, Mehran starts building his new environment. He is not allowed to leave CDG so he starts looking at CDG as his home. His bedroom becomes red chairs on the Terminal One, his bathroom, nothing but general bathrooms in airport and his kitchen, a set of restaurants in the airport and after a while the shopkeepers know him enough to provide him with food. In this new world he doesn’t seem to need money and he does not accept any money. He has his own friends: frequent travelers, journalists, etc. Now, with this new life, he buries Mehran’s identity and chooses a new name: Sir Alfred. You cannot call him Mehran any more; he simply does not answer you.

Sir Alfred stays at CDG and waits for his papers to come. Many of us know about that “waiting”. When you have applied for that visa, that change of status, that green card, that work permit, any immigration related subject that kind of holds you up in the sky until it arrives. Expecting every single letter to be from INS, hoping that each ring is the last call about the immigration status. And so was the case with Sir Alfred. Except that he had to wait his turn away from the world, from the realities of this everyday life. He started getting used to this life style.. Little by little shaping a special way of living, like a metamorphosis. He is being captured by the fact that he is a citizen of CDG. And it was not strange, when it turned out that he had to wait for 11 years for his papers to come. 11 years!

Yes, in 1999 French government granted Sir Alfred a residency permit. BUT surprisingly Sir Alfred did not show any interest to leave his homeland: CDG Airport. That is no wonder. Living for 11 years away from the hassle of every day life, has made him a stranger to the realities of what awaits him outside the boundaries of CDG. He prefers to continue living on his celebrity squatter in CDG where he has seen peace and friendly smiles for the past 11 years than to go out and start the life from zero as a victimized refugee, a symbol of immigration bureaucracy.

He might not even know so many facts about himself: he carries a golden title of the “strangest case in immigration history”, he has been the inspiration for so many artistic venues. In ”Waiting for Godot at de Gaulle”, a movie by Alexis Couros, The director shows Sir Alfred as the victim of a Kafkaesque bureaucracy. In ”Sir Alfred of CDG Airport” by Hamid Rahmanian and Melissa Hibbard, we see a documentary of a man whose main aspiration in this whole strange case is to be somebody else. The most recent movie of his case is Steven Spielberg’s “Terminal”.

After 15 years, in his mid 50’s Mehran is content with his Sir Alfred identity in his lunatic corner in CDG airport. We might know that it is fake but can any one give him another identity? He is a true example of losing one’s identity along the time dimension of immigration paperwork. An event that gives any immigrant an opportunity to thank God that he/she is not Sir Alfred shoes!

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