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Middle east

French footballer trapped in Qatar finally gets exit visa

© Amnesty International

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-27

French footballer Zahir Belounis, trapped in Qatar for 17 months after his club refused him an exit visa because of an ongoing salary dispute, heard Wednesday that he will finally be allowed to return to France.

A French footballer stuck in Qatar for 17 months following a pay dispute with his club has finally been allowed to leave the Gulf state in a case that has highlighted Qatar’s controversial employment laws.

French-Algerian player Zahir Belounis, 33, had been refused an exit visa since June 2012, after he filed a complaint against the Al-Jaish club for failing to pay his salary.

The club insisted he would not be granted the visa unless he dropped the case.

But on Wednesday Belounis heard that his nightmare was over and he would be coming home.

His case was also taken up by the professional footballers union FIFPro, which was due to start a four-day visit to Qatar on Thursday for talks with the Qatari football authorities and the organisers of the 2022 World Cup.

The association said it would "not sit idly by as the rights of the players are being abused".

“The Qatari authorities were doing immense damage to their image by holding him there,” Belounis' brother Mahdi told reporters. “The pressure from the FIFPro was the straw that broke the camel’s back, they realised they had to close the door of this case.”

Belounis' case has highlighted once again Qatar’s “kalafa” (sponsorship) system which ties workers’ residency permits to their employers, whose consent is required before an exit visa can be granted.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have denounced the kafala system – which is only used by Qatar and Saudi Arabia – as abusive.

“This system is slowly killing me and many other people risk suffering in the same way,” Belounis wrote in a desperate open letter to 2022 World Cup ambassadors Zinedine Zidane and Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola, published in the Guardian newspaper on November 14.

“I haven't seen my family in France since June 2012 because my employer refuses to give me the exit visa needed to leave the country. I am not alone in this predicament. Many workers who are to build the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup risk finding themselves in the same situation as me.”

“If Qatar does not scrap its 'exit visa' system, then there will be hundreds, maybe thousands, of people trapped here,” he said.

Date created : 2013-11-27

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