Drowned Pakistani hockey player's pain persists beyond grave

Shahida Raza, the sole breadwinner of the family, was seeking a better future for her disabled son

By
Reuters
Belongings of former Pakistan womens hockey player Shahida Raza, who died when a migrant boat was shipwrecked off the coast of Italy, are displayed for media at her home in Quetta, Pakistan March 2, 2023. — Reuters
Belongings of former Pakistan women's hockey player Shahida Raza, who died when a migrant boat was shipwrecked off the coast of Italy, are displayed for media at her home in Quetta, Pakistan March 2, 2023. — Reuters

QUETTA: Seeking a better future for her disabled son, former national hockey player for Pakistan Shahida Raza enlisted human smugglers to get her out of the country. Her life ended this week off the coast of Italy when the boat carrying her and scores of others sank.

According to her friend and former teammate Summaya Kainat, 27-year-old Raza left her home on the outskirts of Quetta, in Balochistan, four months ago for neighbouring Iran and then Turkey, with the aim of eventually reaching Italy or Australia and seeking asylum there.

Raza was a member of the Hazara minority, a community often targeted by militants, and had opted for asylum because she believed it was easier to gain refugee status after illegally entering these countries than to get a regular visa, Kainat added.

"She was the sole breadwinner of the family," Kainat told Reuters at Raza's modest family home, while Raza's widowed mother and younger sister sobbed uncontrollably in a room that had been turned into a makeshift shrine filled with certificates, medals and trophies celebrating her sporting achievements.

"She told me that as soon as she got a job, she would take her son Hasan away with her," she added. Hasan, aged three, was born with a disability that left him unable to speak or move unaided, Kainat added. She could not name the disability.

Raza's mother and other family members did not want to be interviewed for this story.

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.

Balochistan Chief Minister Abbdul Quddus Bizenjo expressed grief over Raza's death saying in a statement she had brought honour to the province and the country.

The vessel, which authorities believe was carrying up to 200 migrants, sank in rough seas before dawn on Sunday. Those onboard were mostly from neighbouring Afghanistan.

Raza started playing hockey in the national league in 2007 and for years was sponsored by the army and the water and power authority, Kainat and Balochistan government officials said. She also played soccer in domestic competitions.

A view of a group photo of a soccer team that includes Pakistan womens hockey player Shahida Raza, who died when a migrant boat was shipwrecked off the coast of Italy, is displayed for media at her home in Quetta, Pakistan March 2, 2023. — Reuters
A view of a group photo of a soccer team that includes Pakistan women's hockey player Shahida Raza, who died when a migrant boat was shipwrecked off the coast of Italy, is displayed for media at her home in Quetta, Pakistan March 2, 2023. — Reuters

When the sponsorship ended, Kainat said, Raza was left jobless in a country suffering its worst economic crisis in decades. Raza's husband divorced her, citing his inability to live with a disabled child, according to Kainat.

"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 human smugglers to bring migrants into Europe, who at times travel by road, walk for miles and endure being locked in ship containers for days. The UN refugee agency said that last year people travelling from Turkey made up about 15% of arrivals to Italy by sea and that nearly half of those using the route were Afghans.