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Feb 14, 2014

Zahir Belounis: Qatar was a nightmare

Zahir Belounis has called his time in Qatar a “nightmare” during a European Parliament hearing on the Gulf State’s treatment of migrant workers on World Cup-related projects.

Zahir Belounis was able to return to France last week after being granted an exit visa.
Zahir Belounis was stranded in Qatar after taking legal action against El-Jaish Sports Club.

French-Algerian Belounis, 33, said he was stranded in Qatar after he took legal action against El-Jaish Sports Club, who he claimed had failed to pay him his salary.

The club refused to sign his exit visa, and so in accordance with the Kafala system, Belounis was unable to leave the state.

The striker was eventually granted a visa for his exit when his case was brought to the public’s attention, amid the ongoing debate about the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar.

According to official figures released in January, the 2013 death toll for construction workers on World Cup-related projects alone in Qatar was 185.

“It was a nightmare. I became the victim of a system of modern slavery,” Belounis said. “I still can’t stand the feeling that those who have done that to me are not held responsible for it.”

Belounis added: “In the end they blackmailed me. To be allowed to leave the country I had to sign a statement that I would reactively terminate my contract and relinquish my salary for one-and-a-half years.”

FIFA was also represented at the hearing in the form of executive member and former German Football Association president Theo Zwanziger.

“We will not close our eyes before the unacceptable conditions in Qatar and will maintain the pressure. There is no more time in the question of human rights. The clock is ticking,” Zwanziger said.

Zwanziger used the hearing to hit out at other football associations and clubs, accusing them of not doing enough to improve the working conditions in Qatar.

“Everyone points the finger at FIFA all the time. But there are other representatives, for instance the clubs, who have only just had their winter training camps in Qatar and also should not just disregard the conditions,” Zwanziger said, referring to the likes of Bayern Munich and Schalke, who spent time in Qatar in January. “Who looks away here becomes an accessory.”

The general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow, said that FIFA finally needs to take action.

“If you continue to run the World Cup in a state which enslaves workers, it shames the game. The government must end the system of Kafala if the World Cup is to be played in Qatar in 2022,” Burrow said.

“We want to hear from the FIFA president and executive committee about how they will guarantee that the World Cup must only go ahead if there is legal reform to Kafala and for workers’ rights. The new charter from World Cup organisers in Qatar sets out sham conditions, without even any means to ensure that companies comply."

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