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French footballer denied Qatar exit visa arrives home after 17 months

Zahir Belounis says he has no problem with the country, only his former club.

Belounis with his daughter and mother at Charles de Gaulle Airport today.
Belounis with his daughter and mother at Charles de Gaulle Airport today.
Image: Francois Mori/AP/Press Association Image

FRENCH FOOTBALLER ZAHIR Belounis finally returned home today and said that he had been “partly destroyed” by a Qatari club who refused him an exit visa for 17 months.

Belounis, who had not been able to leave the host nation of the 2022 World Cup due to a pay dispute with his club Al-Jaish, left the country with his wife and two daughters aboard a Qatar Airways flight that departed at 13.40.

Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, he said:

“This is not finished. It is important to say that I have no problem with Qatar. My problem is with the club.”

Belounis had finally obtained an exit visa, which is usually controlled by employers in the Gulf state under its controversial “kafala”, or sponsorship system, on Wednesday.

The French-Algerian footballer, 33, initially moved to Qatar in 2007 to sign for second division Al-Jaish, and he was even granted Qatari citizenship, enabling him to represent the country in the World Military Cup in Brazil in 2011.

But his situation began to deteriorate in 2012, when Al-Jaish stopped paying his wages, and Belounis decided to launch legal action against the club in February this year.

In Paris on Thursday, Belounis told waiting press that he was “blackmailed” by Al-Jaish after launching the legal action.

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

France’s ambassador to Qatar, Jean-Christophe Peaucelle, said that Belounis’ exit permit was the result of “intensive work between the French embassy and Qatari authorities”.

The global players’ union FIFPro 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.

The association said 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.

Human Rights Watch 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 has said addressing the issue of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

- © AFP, 2013

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