Professional hockey player died in Italy shipwreck

time:2023-06-03 23:07:19 source:BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation)

Shahida Raza, a Pakistani professional hockey player who died when the boat she was on was wrecked off the coast of Italy on Sunday, had been trying to reach Italy to get medical treatment for her three-year-old son, her sister has told the BBC.

Saadia Raza said her older sister called from the ship, which had set out from Turkey four days previously, and said she was about to land in Italy.

"She was thanking God that she was nearly there," Saadia tells us over the phone from her home in Quetta, in south-west Pakistan. "She said she was scared that something could have happened while she was travelling across the water. She told us she couldn't believe it, that she would call her son and bring him for treatment when she arrived."

Then the call dropped. They couldn't reach her again.

Shahida was 27 years old when she died in the shipwreck off the coast of Italy. Passengers on board came from Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran all trying to cross illegally to Europe. The wooden boat was thought to be carrying around 200 people; over 60 are known to have died.

Shahida had a very particular reason for making the dangerous journey, her family tells us.

"The one and only reason for her to take this trip was for her three-year-old son," Saadia tells us. "He is very unwell, part of his brain was damaged when he had a stroke at 40 days old because of a fever. It left his brain partially damaged and one side of his body from is head to his feet is paralysed."

Despite taking her son to different hospitals in Karachi, they could offer no treatment, Saadia says. Instead, they suggested Shahida take her son abroad in the hope that they might be able to offer him some treatment there. Shahida had been growing increasingly desperate.

"She said I can't see my son like this, I want him to walk like normal children, that's my only wish. She didn't want to see her son lying down helplessly," Saadia says.

"She used to make us all laugh, but used to cry herself because of her son. Whenever she used to look at him, her eyes filled with tears."

A professional hockey player for Pakistan's national team and a national football player, Shahida's family say she wasn't very well paid, despite traveling internationally to play, including to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Iran.

Her family say they didn't 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 routes. Shahida was able to travel to Turkey legally on a visa before taking the ship.

She lived in Balochistan, a sparsely populated and impoverished province of Pakistan and was part of the Hazara, a minority Shia community, that are often targeted by extremist groups. Her family have said that this was not a factor in her wanting to leave Pakistan.

Just a few days before the ship wreck, other Pakistanis were killed when a ship wrecked of the Libyan coast also trying to reach Italy.

"People leave out of desperation, they have no choice," Saadia says. "Our government isn't helping its people, you can see how inflation and the cost of living is here."

After a long wait, Shahida's family learnt about the wreck online. They say they haven't spoken to anyone from the government since the news broke.

"It's like doomsday for our family," Saadia says. She starts to cry and stops our conversation to compose herself. Family friends have been visiting for the last few days to mourn. Local media is gathering outside the family house. "The day we heard that she is no more, it is only us and our God that know how we feel.

"We want the government to hand over her body as soon as possible. We don't need anything from anyone else now."

Recommended content