Social media users in Pakistan have expressed grief and paid tribute to the former national hockey player Shahida Raza, who died in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy last week.
The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) confirmed on Thursday that Raza was among the 62 people who died when a boat sank near the Italian coast on Sunday.
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Raza, who had also represented Pakistan in football and martial arts, had enlisted people smugglers to get her out of the country as she sought a better future for her disabled son, her friend Summaya Kainat told the Reuters news agency.
The 27-year-old belonged to Pakistan’s minority Shia Hazara community and hailed from the southern province of Balochistan.
Hazaras have been regularly targeted by armed groups in Pakistan, pushing many to seek asylum abroad.
According to Kainat, Raza left her home on the outskirts of Quetta four months ago. She crossed Pakistan’s southwestern border into Iran and then travelled to Turkey, with the aim of eventually reaching Italy or Australia and seeking asylum there.
Kainat said her friend had opted to seek asylum because she believed refugee status was easier to obtain than a regular visa.
“She was the sole breadwinner of the family,” Kainat, who played hockey with Raza, told the Reuters news agency.
“She told me that as soon as she got a job, she would take her son Hasan away with her,” Kainat said of Raza’s three-year-old son who had a disability that left him unable to speak or move unaided.
Raza was one of two nationals that Pakistan’s foreign ministry said had died in the shipwreck. Another 17 Pakistanis were rescued, while two remain missing, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
The chief minister of Balochistan expressed grief over Raza’s death, saying in a statement she had brought honour to the province and the country.
PHF’s records show that Raza represented Pakistan at several international tournaments from the junior levels to the national women’s squad.
Nicknamed “Chintu”, Raza played as a half-back and was known for her defence-splitting sprints and goal-scoring ability.
She started playing hockey in the national women’s hockey championship in 2007, representing the army and Wapda (local water and power authority) teams.
— FootballPakistan.com (@FootballPak) March 1, 2023
In addition to being a hockey star, Raza also played football and was part of the national women’s football championship.
Social media users in Pakistan have detailed some of Raza’s sport achievements and expressed their grief at her death.
Among those paying tribute was Pakistani cricket player Hasan Ali, who wrote on Twitter: “May Allah bless her with the highest rank in Jannah”, a term for paradise.
Meet Shahida Raza our very own athlete/sportsperson from Quetta. We're honored for her presence in QLF.
Shahida Raza played hockey for Pakistan Women's Hockey Team.
She is a 4 time football player of Pakistan Football Federation. pic.twitter.com/wnWvO4NTKQ
— Quetta Literary Festival (@QuettaLF) June 21, 2022
Found out abt Shahida Raza's passing at 3:30am, my heart is covered in sadness.
She played Saff Champ'ship for Pak,was nat'l champion with Balochistan United. She perished in the Italy Migrant Ship wreck.
If football was developed properly she wouldn't have been on that ship. pic.twitter.com/gnU62hFwUO
— natasha (@NatashaRaheel) March 1, 2023
Kainat said Raza was left jobless once her sponsorship with the departmental sports team ended and struggled to make ends meet amid rising inflation. Raza’s husband divorced her, citing his inability to live with a disabled child.
“Whenever I talked to her on WhatsApp during her stay in Iran or Turkey, she was crying and asking after Hasan,” Kainat said.
Turkey is part of one of the most-used routes for people smugglers taking asylum seekers into Europe. The journey can involve kilometres of walking and enduring being locked in ship containers for days.
The United Nations refugee agency said that, last year, people travelling from Turkey made up about 15 percent of arrivals to Italy by sea.
Every year, several thousand Pakistanis pay millions to people smugglers for a perilous journey over land and sea to reach Europe in hope of a better life. Pakistani officials said they were planning a new crackdown on people smugglers in the province of Punjab after the boat tragedy.