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French airport exile won't leave

PARIS, Sept. 23 -- The Iranian exile who spent 11 years waiting at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris for his travel documents has received them, but his lawyer today said he doesn't want to leave. Mehran Karimi Nasseri, 54, received papers last week from the Belgium government allowing him to travel and get past French immigration officials and apply for more permanent status. But Paris Attorney Christian Bourguet told French RTL radio Nasseri 'no longer wants to leave the airport... He's scared of going.' Nasseri was known at Charles de Gaulle airport as Sir Alfred, in a friendly reference to his claims of having had a British mother. He was finally informed in July he would be granted a temporary refugee status by the Belgian authorities, bringing to an end a tale that won Nasseri attention worldwide for more than a decade. He has spent time, since late 1988, on a plastic bench in the departure lounge next to a pizza outlet. Nasseri took up airport residence when he was refused entry to Britain because he had no papers. France refused him entry, too. He first left Iran for the United Kingdom in 1974, believing his mother to be British or possibly Danish. But in 1976, after returning to Iran. his Iranian citizenship was taken away for having taken part in demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the Shah who ruled Iran at the time. He spent time in Germany, the Netherlands and finally Belgium, which issued him with documents attesting that he was a stateless person.

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It was this packet of documents Nasseri said were stolen in Paris in 1988. At the time, he attempted to re-enter Britain, but was turned back. All his worldly goods are contained in a pile of bags and boxes and -- for years -- he has passed his days listening to the radio, reading the newspapers, writing his diary and re-telling the story of his life. Friendly airport staff always delivered mail to his bench and the staff and others donated money to support him. In France, he became something of a cult figure, described by the French newspapers as a character out of a Franz Kafka novel. But Attorney Bourguet, said Wednesday Nasseri had been given the original 'refugee card' he was granted in 1981 by the High Commission for Refugees in Belgium. And that has allowed the Iranian to apply for a titre de voyage, a form of passport for refugees, other papers permitting him to stay in France. Bourguet says his client 'needs time to adjust psychologically to the reality of freedom' and eventually will venture out of the airport. He said: 'The process will not take too long. I think he will probably then go to Great Britain.' ---

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Copyright 1999 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---

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