Shahida Raza: 29-year-old Pakistani athlete among those killed in migrant boat sinking

(CNN) Shahida Raza, a soccer and hockey player who left her native Pakistan to secure medical treatment for her son, was among those killed in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy on Sunday. She was 29.

Raza, also known as “Chinto”, was a member of the Pakistan national football team and previously played for the field hockey team.

Her close friend, Sumaiya, told CNN that Raza traveled illegally to Europe in hopes of securing a better future for her three-year-old son with a medical condition. Her family says her son was not on the boat.

“We just want her body back, nothing more,” Sumaiya said. “We have no knowledge of where her body is. No one is giving us information or telling us what to do.”

At least 64 people died when a wooden boat carrying migrants from Turkey broke apart on rocks off the coast of Calabria on Sunday, at least two of them Pakistani nationals.

On Thursday, a spokesperson from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said that 17 Pakistanis were rescued and two are still missing.

“Our embassy in Rome remains actively engaged with the Italian authorities for the welfare of the survivors and the transport of the remains,” the spokesperson said.

Medals, shields and certificates from Raza’s sporting career are displayed in the family home.

Raza was a member of the minority Shia Hazara community in the city of Quetta, near the border with Afghanistan.

She played football for Balochistan United, but despite her status as an international player, she was unable to find a job in Pakistan and therefore could not afford her son’s medical treatment, Sumaiya said.

Raza was afraid of water and not even her family was aware of her decision to move to another country, Sumaiya added.

The Shia Hazara community in Pakistan has suffered years of persecution by Sunni Muslim militant groups in the country.

After a deadly attack in Quetta four years ago, Amnesty International called for additional protection for a community that “has suffered many such tragedies over several years. Each time there are promises that more will be done to protect them, and each time these promises have failed to materialize.”

Raza has received tributes following her death, including from the Aurat March, a prominent right-wing women’s movement in Pakistan, and members of the country’s hockey federation, who “expressed their condolences” to Raza’s family.

According to the International Hockey Federation, Raza made six appearances for Pakistan in 2013.

The ill-fated boat had left the Turkish city of Izmir three or four days before the wreck and the first three bodies washed up on the beach near Staccato di Cutro in southern Italy at around 4.40am local time on Sunday.

Debris from the shipwreck washes ashore in Italy’s southern Calabria region.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni blamed people smugglers for the sinking, saying it was “criminal to launch a boat only 20 meters long with 200 people on board in adverse weather”.

Meloni has made stopping migrant boats a priority for his right-wing government. This week, parliament passed new laws that make it more difficult for NGOs and humanitarian groups to carry out rescues.

CNN’s Sophia Saifi and Barbie Latza Nadeau contributed reporting.

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