With reporting from Riham Sheble
After two years of fighting for wages and better treatment, French-Algerian footballer Zahir Belounis is being granted permission to leave Qatar.
The 33-year-old of Algerian descent, who was in Qatar under a five-year contract with Al Jaish SC, filed a lawsuit against the club in February over 18 months of unpaid wages. He was told at that time that he would not be granted an exit permit unless he dropped the case, which he has refused to do.
Speaking to Doha News today, Belounis confirmed that he is awaiting an exit permit to be granted to him on Monday, when government offices open after Eid holidays. He declined to comment further on his case, only saying: “Until I get to the airport, I won’t believe it.”
In an interview with Doha News late last month, Belounis, who is here with his wife and two daughters, said:
“I want to go back to my country and to see justice served here. I believe I will win because I did not do anything wrong. I do not think I can forgive those who destroyed my life and career, but I can try to make peace with it. Just let me go back home. Nothing can compensate me for the look in my daughter’s eyes when she asks me to buy her a toy and I cannot because I have no money because I have been prevented exercising my basic right to work and earn a living.
But as I said, at this point, I just want to leave. My life has turned into a nightmare. I cannot think about tomorrow or the future of my daughters. I just want out of here.”
In an effort to make it back to France, Belounis has told his story to CNN, the Independent and others, including French President François Hollande, who tried but did not succeed in helping with his case during a visit to Qatar in June.
Human rights groups have also been working on getting Belounis out of Qatar. Speaking to Doha News, Nicholas McGeehan of Human Rights Watch said he was pleased about the development, but added that many others continue to be stuck here without permission to leave.
“We welcome the news that Zahir Belounis will be allowed to leave Qatar, but he is not the only person trapped in the country as a result of the pointless exit visa system, and until Qatar abolishes that system its claims on migrant worker reform cannot be taken seriously.”
Qatar’s restrictive sponsorship system has been in the spotlight over the past month due to media reports about labor abuses among low-income expats and higher profile cases like that of Belounis and three other Frenchmen.