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Behind 'The Terminal,' a true story

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"He is known throughout the world and people come to see him," says Valérie Chevillot, who can see Nasseri's encampment of assorted boxes, bags, and suitcases through the window of her Phénix clothing boutique. "But no one really knows him."

The original crisis began when Nasseri tried to travel to England from Belgium via France. But he lost papers declaring his status as an Iranian refugee. It's been confirmed that he was expelled from Iran in the 1970s, but the famous squatter has since rejected his heritage - even denied he can speak Farsi - under the belief that his Iranian background is the cause of cause of his troubles. No family members have ever contacted him. "Police say they don't live," he says cryptically.

Summarizing the details of Alfred's bureaucratic nightmare since then isn't easy. Nasseri waited at Charles de Gaulle while Britain, France, and Belgium played a shell game with his case for years. At one point, in a classic Catch-22, Belgian authorities said they had proof of his original refugee papers, but insisted he pick them up in person - yet wouldn't let him into the country. He has been jailed several times, and technically could be removed from the airport at any time.

After a lengthy legal battle waged by his lawyer, the French government finally gave him the necessary documents to reside in France and legally travel.

But he refuses to use them.

Nasseri is convinced he has no official identity. If he leaves France, he says, "There are soldiers there who shoot you dead." So he won't venture further than the first floor of the terminal. "I stay until I obtain my origin identity," he often repeats.

Airport shopkeepers don't seem bothered by the fuss over their famous neighbor. The cleaning staff warn that he'll charge a few euros if you take his picture. But otherwise, "he never asks anything of anyone," says Mossaoid Ben, who runs the Coccimarket next door.

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