A week ago, The Independent published an update about Zahir Belounis, a French Algerian footballer who is being held in Qatar in “virtual captivity” due to the same kafala system of visa sponsorship blamed for the mistreatment of Nepali immigrant workers. Belounis played for the El Jaish club in Quatar and will not be allowed to leave the country until he drops his case against the club over what he claims to be two years’ worth of unpaid wages.
The kafala system ties employees to specific employers and is easily abused by those in power. Laborers, who hail primarily from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, have their passports confiscated, are charged exorbitant agent fees illegally, and are prevented from accessing courts for redress, according to this CNN article.
According to The Independent, Belounis’ case had gained such a high profile that French President François Hollande tried to intervene on Belounis’ behalf on a state visit to Qatar in June. The intervention, however, was to no avail.
Belounis was scheduled to meet with a high-ranking administrator in the Qatar this past week, The Independent reported. The newspaper had not published any updates about Belounis’ case as of the evening of Sunday, October 6.
Any press that Belounis receives could raise awareness about systematic abuse of the kafala system, particularly when news about Belounis overlaps with coverage of the deaths of dozens of Nepalese immigrants coerced to work in conditions that have been compared to modern-day slavery. Belounis’ case becomes especially current in light of the criticism FIFA and Quatar are receiving as the country prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.
Belounis’ case has been in the press on and off throughout the year. The aforementioned CNN article is dated May 1.