Withered without blooming: Body of Pakistani child drowned in Italy boat wreck identified

The news has crushed the family and they are just simply not ready to believe Azan is no more

By
Nadia Saboohi
Azan Afridi, a Pakistani boy, lost his life in an Italy boat wreck. — Photo by author
Azan Afridi, a Pakistani boy, lost his life in an Italy boat wreck. — Photo by author

As Pakistan mourns Quetta-based hockey player Shahida Raza’s death in the boat wreck off Italy, the body of Azan Afridi, a Peshawar teen who was also among scores of other migrants drowned in the same tragedy, was pulled out of the sea on Friday.

The vessel, which authorities believe was carrying up to 200 migrants, sank in rough seas before dawn on Sunday, killing at least 68 people. Those onboard were mostly from neighbouring Afghanistan.

The day had not even fully broken when bodies started washing up on the closest Italian beach. Rest are missing and feared to have drowned as the rescuers were pessimistic about survivors after the lapse of so much time.

The body of the seventh-grader, who was trying to make it to the southern European country to pursue his dream of higher education, was identified by his uncle in Italy.

Azan, who went down the dangerous path of illegal migration involving life-threatening risks ranging from trekking narrow mountain passes to negotiating stormy oceans, was a young dream so terribly snuffed out by a cruel quirk of fate.

However, this tragedy has many fathers including a lack of quality educational opportunities, a saturating job market, skyrocketing inflation, and dilapidating socioeconomic conditions of the country that is reeling under the worst economic crisis — among others.

The news crushed his family members who were just simply not ready to believe Azan was no more.

His loved ones were hoping against the hope that Azan would somehow survive and return home unscathed until his body was identified four days after the boat sank in the foreign seas taking the migrants, who mostly did not know how to swim, down.

Suffering continues to heap on the bereaved family as they await the body of Azan so that he could be laid to rest in the soil he belonged to.

On the other hand, Shahida Raza, a former national hockey player for Pakistan, enlisted human smugglers to get her out of the country in a bid to seek a better future for her disabled son.

Her life along with her dreams ended this week off the coast of Italy.

According to her friend and former teammate Summaya Kainat, 27-year-old Shahida 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.

Shahida was a member of the Hazara minority 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 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.

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

So far, Raza and Azan are the two Pakistanis that died in the shipwreck, according to the foreign ministry. Another 17 Pakistanis were rescued, while two remain missing, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

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

An official from the human trafficking task force at the Federal Investigation Agency said this week that 40,000 people try to enter Europe illegally every year.

"The numbers are increasing with each day due to our deteriorating economic situation and lack of jobs," the official said on condition of anonymity.

There are approximately 2.2 million Pakistanis in Europe, and Italy is the preferred destination for migrants from the South Asian nation, according to a 2022 survey by the Mixed Migration Centre.

Most use smugglers to transit through Iran, Turkey and Greece on their trip, the report said.

Italian police have arrested three "alleged smugglers" following Sunday's wreck, including two Pakistanis and a Turkish national.

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.


— Additional input from Reuters and AFP