"I want to kill myself, I can't carry on."
Qatar’s troubled hosting of the 2022 World Cup has drawn criticism for all manner of reasons, from widespread fears over players' safety in blazing heat which have forced a gradual acceptance that the tournament will be moved to winter, to protests and campaigns to highlight the awful fate of many of the migrant workers that are building the infrastructure to help hold the FIFA extravaganza.
But the extraordinary suffering of footballer Zahir Belounis may be the most devastating expose to hit the Gulf State as it tries to project an image of a modern, compassionate country deserving of the right to host the World Cup finals.
Because Belounis has been stranded in a particularly pernicious form of limbo in Qatar ever since becoming involved in a pay dispute with his club, El Jaish. As documented by CNN reporter James Masters, Belounis has tried to stave off thoughts of suicide as well as threatening a hunger strike after two years in which he has been unable to procure an exit visa to leave the country.
"I feel like a hostage," Belounis told CNN in October. "Life has become a nightmare for me, my wife and my two small daughters. I try to be the best daddy I can but after I tuck them in at night, I go to bed and cry like a baby. They killed me inside. I hated myself. I had very dark thoughts."
Belounis, who is French, is trapped in the country as Qatar has refused to issue him with an exit permit while he maintains in a legal dispute that he is owned two years’ wages from El Jaish. French president Francois Hollande even tried to intervene in June, to no avail.
Far from being an extraordinary case, though, Belounis’s form of torment is actually widespread due to the ‘kafala’ system of visa sponsorship, which dictates that an employee needs the consent of their company to leave the country.
As highlighted in Yahoo!-Eurosport’s special report into the human cost of a Qatar World Cup, in practice this means that migrant workers in the country can be denied basic rights with their passports confiscated on arrival.