Man from Liberia has made NAIA terminal home for 4 months

This is a story very similar to the movie “Terminal” where Tom Hanks played the starring role. But there is a big difference. It is actually happening in the Philippines.

MANILA, Philippines — For more than four months now, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 has been home for Liberian nurse Henry Lewis. Unlike other foreign travellers well-dressed for their flights, Lewis sits in a monobloc chair by the door bearing the signage “exclusion room.” He wears casual outfit — a t-shirt, shorts and slippers.

The door is the only spot where his phone can get the airport’s Wi-Fi signal. The exclusion room is a nine-door area designated by the Bureau of Immigration for passengers who have been denied entry to the Philippines for various reasons.

But Lewis was not the usual “excluded” passenger because he has been practically living in NAIA 3 since June 2, 2014.

“No, I don’t feel like a prisoner here. I have Wi-Fi. I can communicate with friends and family,” Lewis, 28, who is a nurse in his home country Liberia, a country in West Africa, which has been battling against the biggest Ebola outbreak in recent history.

Food and personal needs provided

Lewis, however, cannot freely roam around the terminal without airport security personnel in tow. His food and personal needs are brought by the personnel of the Manila International Airport Authority and the air carrier who flew him to the country.

Lewis was a tourist in the Philippines for a year before he flew to South Korea on May 31, 2014 via Air Asia Zest, Mary Ann Velasco, head of the Bureau of Immigration team at the NAIA 3 said.

“But in South Korea, he was denied entry for a reason we weren’t told,” Velasco said. It seems that Lewis has an immigration record in South Korea, thus making him not wanted in that country.

As a standard procedure, Lewis would have been brought back to his point of origin and a one-way flight to his home country would have to be arranged, the immigration official said. He was flown by AirAsia Zest back to Manila, two days after on June 2. He could not leave the airport, however, since he was also put in the Immigration’s blacklist.

“He has no criminal record, but he has no money nor legitimate sponsor for him to afford his stay in the country,” Velasco said. “If we allowed his return to the country, he’d be just a burden,” she added. Nonetheless, the Liberian man’s food and basic needs have been shouldered by the airline for four months now.

“If we allowed his return to the country, he’d be just a burden,” she added.

Nonetheless, the Liberian man’s food and basic needs have been shouldered by the airline for four months now.

“For humanitarian reason, we have been taking care of his needs,” Jenny Tan, spokesperson of the budget carrier AirAsia Zest.

“But just to be clear, we give him food and whatever he needs daily. No cash. But we are willing to pay for his ticket (back to his country),” Tan said.

The company is wondering why other airlines with flights to Liberia have refused to take him on board.

“All the airlines we had asked to bring him home declined. We were not told of the reason,” Tan said. AirAsia Zest has no direct flights to Liberia. But Tan said the airline and airport staff have been good to the passenger because “he seems kind and friendly.” “He has befriended our staff. It’s funny how it is so similar to the movie ‘Terminal’,” Tan quipped.

“We are asking for the help of the Liberian Embassy in Manila. We have sent an email but there is still no reply,” Tan said.

The African man’s only hope is to be given a plane ticket home and be allowed to board the next plane. “I just want to get my passport and go home. I have done nothing wrong,” Lewis said. (

Updated: 2014-10-04 — 19:13:21