Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host, has finally allowed a French footballer to leave after being stuck for 17 months due to a pay dispute with his club, according to the French ambassador.
Jean-Christophe Peaucelle said Zahir Belounis obtained on Wednesday an exit visa, which is usually controlled by employers in the Gulf state under its controversial “kafala”, or sponsorship, system.
“I confirm that Mr. Belounis has received his exit visa and that he will leave Qatar tomorrow to France,” Peaucelle said, adding that this was the result of “intensive work between the French embassy and Qatari authorities”.
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
The 33 year old French-Algerian who played for Al-Jaish was not able to leave Qatar since June 2012, after he filed a complaint against Al-Jaish over a payment dispute.
He said he was stranded in Qatar with his wife and their two daughters.
The club insisted that he would not be granted the exit permit unless he dropped the case.
Belounis’ ordeal was becoming a mounting embarrassment for the Gulf state. The global players’ union FIFPro called his situation “deplorable”.
The association said it was to start a four-day visit to Qatar on Thursday for talks with Qatari football authorities and organisers of the 2022 World Cup, and that it would “not sit idly by as the rights of the players are being abused”.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the only Gulf states that continue to impose an exit visa on foreign employees who want to leave.
“This system is slowly killing me and many other people risk suffering in the same way,” Belounis wrote in an open letter, published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper this month and addressed to French football legend Zinedine Zidane and Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola in a plea to intervene on his behalf.
“I haven’t seen my family in France since June 2012 because my employer refuses to give me the exit visa,” he wrote. “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.”
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights group, has denounced the kafala system as abusive.
“The kafala, or sponsorship, system ties migrant workers’ residency permits to sponsoring employers, whose written consent is required for workers to change employers or leave the country,” it said, addressing the issue of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.