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Mysterious black holes of dubious jurisdiction at airports

July 3, 2013 Airport, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Is territory within Australian airports wholly Australian? The question is more complex than it appears.

The odd status of airports has been spotlighted by the case of American surveillance whistle-blower and fugitive Edward Snowden, who has been stuck at Moscow Airport for about a week while he seeks asylum after fleeing Hong Kong. He is still “in transit” at the airport, though he doesn’t know where he is going.

Comments from Russian officials indicate they consider parts of Moscow Airport not to be Russian territory.

A New York Times report yesterday said: “Top [Russian] officials have said the case does not directly involve them, since Mr Snowden has not passed through immigration control and remains in a part of the airport that is technically not Russian territory.”

Travellers who use airports may ponder points such as:

  • If part of Moscow Airport is not Russian territory, whose territory is it?
  • If a major crime was committed in that part of the airport, who would arrest the suspect and where would they be tried?
  • Are parts of Sydney or Melbourne airports, or other Australian international airports, not Australian territory?

It seems that some countries have decided to exclude areas of airports (and sea ports) from their own customs and passport control boundaries. So-called international zones are found in international airports and can contain duty-free shopping, accessible to travellers who have not cleared the customs and immigration of the host country.

Whether they are truly international under law is another manner.

Embassies, for instance, are considered to be the territory of the country they represent rather than the host country, which is why Julian Assange of Wikileaks is untouched in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Embassy territory, however, does belong to someone. International zones at airports, if they are truly international, would appear to belong to no one.

Incidentally, Edwards has not broken any records with his wait at Moscow Airport.

Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee, waited at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for 18 years, between 1988 and 2006. He was expelled from Iran for political reasons and owing to a series of mishaps, found himself with nowhere to go and no papers, living in limbo at the airport. The 2004 film The Terminal, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones, was loosely based on Nasseri’s case.

Nasseri was finally allowed into France on compassionate grounds and was last reported to be living in a shelter for the homeless in Paris.

Written by Peter Needham

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