Recently, I finally got the chance to watch
the movie The Terminal [not available on American Netflix], featuring Tom Hanks as a stateless,
eastern-European guy, stuck at JFK airport for several months, due to incredibly unfortunate
circumstances. Naturally, it made me wonder, just how realistic
are the circumstances in the movie? Now, I could just review the movie, and talk
about what they got right and what they got wrong, but I think I’d like to go down a
slightly different route, mostly because I’m paranoid about copyright stuff (my How to
Train Your Dragon video didn’t exactly go scot-free). However, I will give you a little bit of spoiler-free
synopsis, just so we know what we’re talking about. A man by the name of Viktor Navorski flies
into New York JFK International Airport, directly from his fictional home country of Krakozhia
(honestly, though, direct flight? How the hell did you manage that?! I could never do that, I had a layover in
Seattle when I went down for VidCon this year!) However, news breaks out that a successful
coup has taken place while he was in the air, and now the US doesn’t recognize Krakozhian
passports, and, just to make things worse, Krakozhia had also closed their borders, leaving
Navorski hopelessly trapped in the international terminal, until something can be done. So, first thing’s first, has this happened
in real life? Sadly, this does actually happen quite a bit. Wikipedia has a whole page dedicated to people
who have lived in airports, and with most of them, the root of their problem usually
has to do with visas and/or passports being either expired or revoked, but also involve
statelessness. Statelessness basically means that… actually,
this is a pretty easy word to understand, the person has no citizenship of any country,
done. This, of course, can have dire consequences
for the 10 million people currently stuck without a country. So, of course, as you almost certainly know
from my Know Your Visa video, many countries have different visa requirements for people
of different nationalities. For example, to enter the United States, there
are basically three categories: completely visa-free, which is basically Canada, Palau,
Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands (if you know why those last three are on the list,
you are a super-nerd, and deserve a high-five from me); then are the visa-waiver countries,
like the UK, Germany, Australia, Chile, Brunei (for some reason), etc.; and of course, there’s
everywhere else, whose citizens need a visa prior to travel, from their local US embassy
or consulate. However, to be on the visa-free or visa-waiver
list, you need a nationality, and to get a visa, you need a passport, but to have a passport,
you still need a nationality, so if you have no nationality, doing some quick math shows
us that a=b=c, therefore a=c, therefore stateless persons aren’t entering any countries very
easily. The best example of this is also probably
one of the best known individuals who has lived in an airport, Mehran Karimi Nasseri,
a former Iranian citizen, who lost his citizenship, and was exiled from Iran in 1977, around the
same time as a lot of… other things. He wrote a book about his experiences, which
actually inspired The Terminal, as he wanted to seek refuge in the UK, but ended up stuck
in Paris Charles d’Gaulle Airport from 1988 to 2006, when he was hospitalized for an “unspecified
ailment”. Though it is perhaps important to remember
that he wasn’t actually stuck in the international zone, and was actually offered asylum in Belgium,
but I mean… it is Belgium, so… Now, for those of you who don’t watch Wendover
Productions, and/or have never traveled internationally before, here’s how exactly international
layovers work. Let’s say you want to fly from London to
Sydney, where airlines will generally route you through another destination, due to the
distance, let’s say Dubai. So, you’re flying from the United Kingdom,
via the United Arab Emirates, to the United Australia (which I believe is just called
“Australia”), however, if you don’t plan to leave the airport in Dubai, and just
want to get to your gate for your Sydney-bound flight, you can just stay within the international
zone, without ever going through Emirati customs. You’re physically within the United Arab
Emirates, but not in the same way as someone hanging out in Dubai Mall. So, even if you can’t (for whatever reason)
enter the country the airport’s in, you can still hang out in the international zone,
which is kind of the entire premise of The Terminal. However, it isn’t always due to statelessness,
the main reasons (at least according to the Wikipedia page) for one to stay in an airport
for long-term, other than flying Air Brussels, are things like protests, asylum seeking,
or difficulties with travel and visas. Here’s an example for all three! Feng Zhenghu is a Chinese human rights activist,
who lived in Tokyo-Narita Airport for 86 days, from November, 2009 to February, 2010. He originally flew out to Tokyo, from his
Shanghai home, to receive medical treatment, but upon returning to Shanghai, was refused
entry, and sent back. As a sign of protest, he began living in Narita
Airport, more or less intentionally, documenting the stay on Twitter, and his blog. He later reentered Japan, and got to return
to China, but unfortunately, he has now been put under house arrest in his apartment, but
at least an apartment’s actually more meant for living in than an airport terminal, so
I guess there’s that. Zahra Kamalfar is an Iranian refugee, now
living in Canada, who lived from 2006-07 in Moscow-Sheremetyevo Airport, along with her
two kids, after fleeing persecution in Iran, and the execution of her husband. She flew with fake documents, to try to get
to Canada, but had to fly through Moscow, and then through Germany. They made it through Russia, but the falsehood
of the documents was noticed in Germany, and they were deported back to Moscow, and Russian
officials also originally wanted to deport them back to Iran, but then didn’t. Thankfully, they were eventually granted asylum
by the Canadian government. Hassan al-Kontar is a Syrian, currently still
stuck in Kuala Lumpur Int’l Airport. He originally moved to the UAE to do work,
but overstayed so long his passport expired. He was deported to Malaysia, as he did not
want to return home, since he hadn’t done his mandatory military service in Syria. He saved the money to go to Ecuador, but he
was turned down by Turkish Airlines staff for no apparent reason. He then tried to go to Cambodia, after overstaying
his Malaysian visa, but was turned back, and now lives in the international terminal. The Malaysian government was considering giving
him refugee status, but as Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the
Status of Refugees, such a permit would not have allowed him to work in the country. International flights can be a tricky business,
and hopping borders isn’t always the easiest thing to do for a lot of people. Unfortunately, if you end up falling through
the cracks of the system, unable to get into the country, but also unable to be deported,
spending your time in the international zone of an airport could end up your only option. Oh, and, as for the movie, well… Catherine Zeta Jones can’t exactly be there
for everyone. Thank you, as always, for watching this video,
and if you enjoyed it, please be sure to give it a like, share it, and subscribe to learn
something new every Sunday!