Returned hostages from Iran at press conference on Jan. 28, 1981
NY Daily News Archive—Getty Images
December 24, 2015 10:53 PM EST

The American citizens held captive for more than a year during the infamous Iran hostage crisis of 1979 are set to receive compensation decades later, after U.S. lawmakers passed legislation this week enabling their payments to be completed.

The 53 former hostages will be given up to $4.4 million each or $10,000 for each of the 444 days they were held, reports Agence France-Presse.

The crisis, which exacerbated already existing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, began when Iranian student militants besieged the U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, and took its staff hostage. The terms under which their release was secured in 1981, however, prevented them from seeking compensation from the Iranian government.

The compensation has been enabled now, 36 years later, through fines collected from companies that have defied U.S. sanctions against Iran and other nations like North Korea, including $8.9 billion paid by French bank BNP Paribas this year. Thomas Lankford, an attorney who represents most of the hostages and their families, told AFP that a similar provision in last year’s spending bill fell through.

“It’s been a long, arduous, epic struggle,” he said.


Read a 1981 account of what the hostages went through, here in the TIME Vault: The Long Ordeal of the Hostages

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