Nasseri was born in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company settlement located in Masjed Soleiman, Iran. His father was an Iranian physician working for the company. Nasseri stated that his mother was a nurse from Scotland working in the same place. He arrived in the United Kingdom in September 1973, to take a three-year course in Yugoslav studies at the University of Bradford.
Life in Terminal 1
Nasseri claims he was expelled from Iran in 1977 for protests against the Shah and after a long battle, involving applications in several countries, was awarded refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgium. This allegedly permitted residence in many other European countries. However, this claim has been disputed.
Having claimed to have one British parent, although he has produced no evidence to support this, he decided to settle in the UK in 1986, but en route there in 1988, his papers were lost, either because his briefcase was stolen or because he himself, in "a moment of folly", sent them back. Despite this setback, he boarded the plane for London but was promptly returned to France when he failed to present a passport to British immigration officials. He was initially arrested by the French, but then released as his entry to the airport was legal and as he had no country of origin to be returned to; thus began his residency at Terminal 1.
His case was later taken on by French human rights lawyer Christian Bourget. In 1992, a French court ruled that, having entered the country legally, he could not be expelled from the airport, but it could not grant him permission to enter France.
Attempts were then made to have new documents issued from Belgium, but the authorities there would only do so if Nasseri presented himself in person. However, under Belgian law a refugee who voluntarily leaves a country that has accepted him cannot return. In 1995, the Belgian authorities granted permission for him to return, but only if he agreed to live there under supervision of a social worker. Nasseri refused this on the grounds of wanting to enter the UK as originally intended.
Nasseri's stay at the airport ended in July 2006 when he was hospitalized and his sitting place dismantled. Towards the end of January 2007, he left the hospital and was looked after by the airport's branch of the French Red Cross; he was lodged for a few weeks in a hotel close to the airport. On March 6, 2007, he transferred to an Emmaus charity reception-centre in Paris's 20th arrondissement. Since 2008 he has continued to live in a Paris shelter.
During his 17-year-long stay at Terminal 1 in the Charles de Gaulle Airport, Nasseri had his luggage at his side and spent his time reading, writing in his diary, or studying economics. He received food and newspapers from employees of the airport.
Documentaries and fictionalizations
Nasseri's story provided the inspiration for the 1994 French film Tombés du ciel, starring Jean Rochefort, internationally released under the title Lost in Transit. The short story "The Fifteen-Year Layover", written by Michael Paterniti and published in GQ and The Best American Non-Required Reading, chronicles Nasseri's life. Alexis Kouros made a documentary about him, Waiting for Godot at De Gaulle (2000). Glen Luchford and Paul Berczeller made the Here to Where mockumentary (2001), also featuring Nasseri. Hamid Rahmanian and Melissa Hibbard made a documentary called Sir Alfred of Charles De Gaulle Airport (2001).
Nasseri was reportedly the inspiration behind the character Viktor Navorski, from the 2004 Tom Hanks movie The Terminal; however, neither publicity materials, nor the DVD "special features" nor the film's website mentions Nasseri's plight as an inspiration for the film. Despite this, in September 2003, The New York Times noted that Steven Spielberg had bought the rights to his life story as the basis for The Terminal. The Guardian indicates that Spielberg's DreamWorks production company paid US$250,000 to Nasseri for rights to his story and report that, as of 2004, he carried a poster advertising Spielberg's film draping his suitcase next to his bench. Nasseri was reportedly excited about The Terminal, but it was unlikely that he would ever have had a chance to see it in theatres.
In 2004 the book The Terminal Man was published in several countries including the UK and Germany. The Terminal Man was a full-length autobiography co-written by Nasseri and British author Andrew Donkin. The book was reviewed in the UK's Sunday Times as being "profoundly disturbing and brilliant".