With reporting from Riham Sheble
Despite high hopes that he would be home in France by now, 33-year-old Zahir Belounis is still in Qatar, and getting desperate.
The footballer, who came here under a five-year contract with Al Jaish SC, told Doha News this morning that he had a meeting with his sponsor and Qatari and French embassy officials yesterday. But the talks did not end up yielding an exit permit.
Belounis has not been allowed to leave the country since February, after he filed a lawsuit against his sponsor for 18 months worth of unpaid wages. He has previously been told that he would not be granted an exit permit until he drops his lawsuit.
‘We need to leave’
Yesterday, Belounis said he was asked to sign an agreement terminating his contract with Al Jaish, but added that he was not given any guarantees that an exit permit would be forthcoming.
Speaking to Doha News this morning, Belounis, who lives with his wife and children, said he had already started selling his furniture in preparation for leaving Qatar. He continued:
“By Thursday, we will be out on the street, literally homeless. And right now this is my worst fear. I cannot afford to go with my family to a hotel. My daughter was really confused to see the furniture going while I was not able to give her a definite answer as to when we will be traveling.
Yes, the French embassy has extended me a huge helping hand and yes, the government seems keen on sorting this mess out, but the fact remains that I still do not have an exit visa to leave Qatar. For my family and me, this is what matters. We need to leave back to our country before we find ourselves on the street.”
Over the past several months, human rights groups have been holding up Belounis as yet another victim of Qatar’s kafala system, which does not allow employees to leave the country without their sponsor’s permission.
Al Jaish has not publicly commented on this case in recent months, and it is unclear whether Belounis would be paid his back wages if he leaves.
Another meeting with the athlete and officials is scheduled this week.