France: ‘The Terminal’ Movie Comes to Life at Charles de Gaulle Airport

FranceSounding a little like the movie The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks, it turns out a homeless man has spent his life in Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France for almost 30 years.  However, the story that has come to light is far more serious than collecting luggage trolleys for cash.

Ismaël Nohu has been living in the shadows and corners of Charles de Gaulle airport for 26 years.  He has been hiding in the stairwells and storage rooms, lurking in the car parks, and generally keeping out of sight.  He digs in the trash bins for food and commits minor crimes to survive and get by.

Le Parisien newspaper has published the story of Nohu, and it is a tragic one.  According to his lawyer, Azia Mumtaz Taj, he is mentally ill and in need of treatment.  She says he can only speak very few words, mainly “yes”, “no” and “I don’t know”.  He does understand language, as if you offer him a cigarette, he will take it with pleasure, but basically he speaks like a 5 year old child and generally mutters inaudibly.

Nohu is due to appear in court this week, as he is up on charges of stealing from a car in the airport’s car parks, in this case an Apple music player.  He is due to face prison for this crime, but Taj is doing her best to help him by trying to get help for his mental problems.

Le Parisien tells the tale of Nohu’s life, which can apparently be traced back to a fight with his parents at the age of 17.  Three years earlier, they brought Nohu to France from the Comoros Islands, their native home.

The reasons for the family fight are long lost, and he ended up in a shelter in France.  Soon after, Nohu did his mandatory military service and learned the basic trade as a mechanic.  However, when he left the service, he struggled to find work and somehow ended up at Charles de Gaulle airport in France, where he has been ever since.

Dating back around 12 years, there have been 11 arrests in his time in the airport, but according to a report prepared by lawyers, it seems he has been living in the second busiest airport in Europe for a whole 26 years.

Social workers who are familiar with Nohu say he rarely appeared above ground and spent most of his time in the shadows of the car parks and stairwells.

According to one of the social workers, named Christopher, they all recognize Nohu.  He described him as having dark skin, long hair and “eyes that blink constantly” and that “he is a person unlike others.”

One day before Nohu’s 46th birthday in November last year, the border police caught up with him in one of the underground car parks at the airport.  He was found to be trying to force open car doors, plus they also found the Apple music player in his possession.

He was sent to jail, but his lawyer stresses that Nohu doesn’t belong in prison.  She added that “apart from a psychiatric hospital Ismaël has no future.”

A sad tale indeed of a man, having spent most of his life in Charles de Gaulle airport in such a similar way to the Tom Hank’s character in the movie The Terminal, but with less comedy or hope for his future.

By Anne Sewell


Le Parisien (French)

The Local

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