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Zahir Belounis: 'I cannot wait to go home'

updated 12:40 PM EST, Wed November 27, 2013
Football player Zahir Belounis (right) is welcomed by his mother as he arrives from Qatar at Paris' Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport on November 28, 2013. Football player Zahir Belounis (right) is welcomed by his mother as he arrives from Qatar at Paris' Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport on November 28, 2013.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Zahir Belounis given exit visa to leave Qatar
  • Football player will return to France Thursday along with wife and daughters
  • Tells CNN he wants to get his "life back to normal"
  • World players' union announce four-day Qatar visit to discuss players' human rights

(CNN) -- The French-Algerian football player stranded in Qatar for the past two years over a pay dispute has been given an exit permit to leave the country.

"I cannot wait to go home," Zahiar Belounis, who has given up his claim to money he says he is owed, told CNN in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

"I have waited for so long and now it has happened. I cannot believe it.

"I am tired and stressed but now I am just looking forward to getting to the airport.

"I want to see my family and get my life back to normal. I want to go home."

During the long-running dispute Belounis, who had expected to receive his exit permit in October, says he has suffered with depression and revealed he had contemplated suicide.

The 33-year-old will fly back to Paris on Thursday with his wife and two small daughters.

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In his only phone call to a media outlet immediately following the announcement, Belounis gave thanks to those who had fought for his cause so passionately.

"I want to thank all those who believed me and gave me strength to get through," he told CNN.

"I cannot believe how much support I've had. It has been amazing.

"I just want to say thank you."

Qatar has come under intense media scrutiny since winning the right to stage the 2022 World Cup, particularly over its employment laws -- notably the kafala system, which requires expatriate workers and some visitors to have a residence permit.

The Belounis case has prompted the International Trade Union Confederation to demand a change to workers' rights in Qatar.

"A grave injustice is nearly over for Zahir and his family. One man and his family have come to illustrate the conditions faced by 1.3 million migrant workers in Qatar," said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC, in a statement.

"The torment that Zahir and his family have been put through because of bad laws which give workers no rights should never be repeated.

I want to see my family and get my life back to normal. I want to go home.
Zahir Belounis

"Sadly, today in Qatar there remain many workers who have no voice. The Qatar authorities should reform their laws to respect International Labor Organization conditions."

FIFPro, the global players union, is set to visit Qatar this week for talks with the country's football authorities and organizers of the 2022 World Cup.

Representatives from the organization had been scheduled to meet with Belounis before the news of his exit visa was announced.

"As the worldwide representative for professional footballers, FIFPro will be able to welcome back a long-lost family member," said FIFPro in a statement.

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"The World Footballers' Association would also like to express its gratitude to all who joined together with FIFPro to ensure a successful outcome."

Neither the Qatari Foreign Ministiry nor the Qatari Football Association was not immediately available for comment, but in October the QFA told CNN that "as in any other football association in the world, there will unfortunately always be contractual disputes between clubs and players/coaches."

It went on to add: "It is also relevant to emphasize that up to now the player has not taken any action in front of the competent judicial bodies of FIFA.

"Our records show also that Zahir Belounis received salaries from one of our other affiliated clubs, Al Markhiya Club, when he played there during the second half of the 2011/12 season.

"At the end of that season, Zahir Belounis contacted the QFA for outstanding salaries from Al Markhiya Club. The QFA immediately took action and, after analysis and investigation which gave him right, the player received full compensation.

"However, in the alleged case of El Jaish Club, Zahir Belounis did not contact QFA, although he had experienced the efficiency of doing so when his request was legitimate."

On Tuesday, FIFA President Sepp Blatter condemned European media for "attacking" and "criticizing" Qatar.

"It is not fair when the international media and especially European media are taking up the focus of an Arab country here in Asia, and attacking, criticizing this country," Blatter said to delegates at the Asian Football Confederation awards in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The kafala system ensures that all expatriate workers in Qatar and some visitors require a residence permit.

These can be provided by a resident sponsor, an employer or the person inviting a visitor on his or her sponsorship.

HRW says that residence sponsors do not need to justify their failure to provide an exit permit -- the onus is on the expatriate to find another exit sponsor.

They can do this by finding another Qatari national or by claiming a certificate which establishes that there are no outstanding legal claims against them.

"We are defending it. We have taken the decision to play a World Cup in the Arab world and we have taken the decision to play in Qatar and we will go and play this ... in 2022 in Qatar," Blatter added.

Earlier this month, the FIFA boss condemned working conditions in Qatar as "unacceptable" following an Amnesty International report which claimed migrant worker abuse was rife.

"Economic and political leaders must contribute to improving the unacceptable situation in Qatar," Blatter said in a statement on November 21.

"I am convinced that Qatar is taking the situation very seriously. These very discussions about Qatar show just what an important role football can play in generating publicity and thus bringing about change."

Mahdi Belounis, the brother of Zahir, is now looking forward to meeting his brother at the airport and being reunited with his sibling.

"This is fantastic news," he told CNN. "He wanted to say thank you to all the people who had shown him support on Twitter and Facebook.

"This has been really traumatic for all of us -- for my mother and my disabled brother

"We know he was depressed and that he was on medication and he had talked about suicide. We were really scared of some tragic news.

"He should start from scratch. It's OK now."

Read: Amnesty International says Qatar rife with migrant worker abuse before World Cup

Read: World Cup hosts Qatar face scrutiny over 'slavery' accusations

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