Trapped player Belounis 'gets Qatar exit visa'
Zahir Belounis, the French footballer trapped in Qatar, appears to have finally secured an exit visa after suffering two years of limbo in the country.
Belounis has become a cause celebre with his high-profile case bringing increased focus on Qatar’s repressive labour laws as the country continues to fight off criticism as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.
He has been stranded in Qatar, with his wife and two daughters, and had been denied an exit visa until he agreed to drop a legal case against his former club, Al-Jaish, over his claim of almost two years' unpaid wages.
Belounis joined Qatari side Al-Jaish in 2007. He later extended his contract until June 2015 but from November 2011 the club stopped paying his salary and the lengthy dispute left him feeling suicidal, telling CNN: "I want to kill myself."
The club, it is said, put him under pressure to terminate his contract and sign a document confirming he was owed nothing by Al-Jaish. Belounis refused, concerned his signature would invalidate any claim.
However, the brother of Belounis, Mahdi, has now said on Twitter that he will return to France imminently after the long-running dispute was finally resolved.
FIFA said it was unable to help Belounis, 33, as the player took his case to an ordinary court in Qatar rather than pursuing it through football channels, but pressure from other quarters appears to have finally worked.
Players’ union FIFPro said it would be sending a delegation to Qatar to meet Belounis and lobby for his free passage out of the country, while a small number of British journalists have fought a tenacious battle to keep his story in the news.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had also advocated for Belounis to be allowed to leave Qatar after be became trapped by the kafala system which dictates that migrant workers can only leave the country with their employers' permission.