Pakistani professional hockey player Shahida Raza died tragically in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy on Sunday, while trying to reach Italy to get medical treatment for her three-year-old son.
Shahida was one of two nationals that the foreign ministry has confirmed dead in the shipwreck. Another 17 Pakistanis were rescued, while two remain missing, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Her sister, Saadia Raza, stated that Shahida called from the ship, which had set out from Turkey four days earlier, and said she was about to land in Italy. Shahida was 27 years old and was part of the Hazara, a minority Shia community that is often targeted by extremist groups.
“It’s like doomsday for our family,” Saadia said. “We want the government to hand over her body as soon as possible. We don’t need anything from anyone else now.” Her family has said that Shahida’s death is a great loss to Pakistani hockey and football teams, and that they will never forget her dedication to sports.
Shahida wanted to seek asylum
Kainat, who played hockey with Shahida told Reuters that she aimed at seeking asylum in Italy or Australia believing it would be easier to obtain than a regular visa.
“She was the sole breadwinner of the family,” Kainat told Reuters. “She told me that as soon as she got a job, she would take her son Hasan away with her,” Kainat said of Shahida’s three-year-old son who had a disability that left him unable to speak or move unaided.
Shahida’s son had brain damage caused by a stroke when he was 40 days old because of a fever, which left one side of his body paralyzed. Despite taking her son to different hospitals in Karachi, they could offer no treatment. Shahida had been growing increasingly desperate and decided to travel abroad in the hope that they might be able to offer him some treatment.
An underpaid all-around athlete
Shahida was a professional hockey player for Pakistan’s national team and a national football player. Pakistan Hockey Federation’s records show she represented the country at several international tournaments from the junior level to the national women’s squad.
Her family says she wasn’t very well paid despite traveling internationally to play, including to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Iran. Her family did not know about the planned trip or whether Shahida tried to get a visa to legally travel to settle in Italy, but human traffickers often convince those they take that they are able to get them settled abroad faster and more easily than any legal route.
Pakistan mourns death of star athlete
Social media users in Pakistan have expressed grief and paid tribute to Shahida Raza while sharing her sports achievements.
Pakistani cricket player Hasan Ali also paid tribute to the athlete and prayed for the departed soul. “May Allah bless her with the highest rank in Jannah”, he tweeted.
The chief minister of Balochistan also expressed grief over Shahida’s death, saying in a statement she had brought honor to the province and the country.
Not the first time
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Pakistanis have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Just a few days before Shahida’s tragic death, other Pakistanis were killed when a ship wrecked off the Libyan coast also trying to reach Italy. The reasons behind such dangerous and illegal migrations are often desperation and poverty, as many people have no other choice.