- By Caroline Davies in Islamabad
- BBC news
Shahida Raza, a Pakistani professional hockey player who died when the boat she was on capsized off the coast of Italy on Sunday, had been trying to reach Italy for medical treatment for her three-year-old son, her sister has said. BBC.
Saadia Raza said her older sister called from the ship, which had set sail from Turkey four days earlier, saying she was about to land in Italy.
“She thanked God that she was almost there,” Saadia tells us over the phone from her home in Quetta, southwest Pakistan. “She said she was afraid something might have happened while she was traveling across the water. She told us she couldn’t believe it, that she would call her son and bring him to treatment when she arrived.”
Then the conversation 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 who all tried to cross illegally to Europe. The wooden boat was believed to be carrying around 200 people; over 60 are known to have died.
Shahida had a very special reason for making the dangerous journey, her family says.
“The only reason she made this trip was for her three-year-old son,” says Saadia. “He is very unwell, part of his brain was damaged when he had a stroke at 40 days old due to a fever. It partially damaged his brain and one side of his body from his head to his feet is paralyzed.”
Despite taking their son to various hospitals in Karachi, they could not offer treatment, says Saadia. Instead, they suggested Shahida take her son abroad in the hope that they might be able to offer him some treatment there. Shahida had become increasingly desperate.
“She said I can’t see my son like this, I want him to walk like a normal child, that’s my only wish. She didn’t want to see her son lying helpless,” says Saadia.
“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 would fill with tears.”
A professional hockey player for Pakistan’s national team and a national soccer player, Shahida’s family says she was not paid very well, despite traveling internationally to play, including to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Iran.
Her family say they did not know about the planned trip or whether Shahida was trying to get a visa to legally travel to settle in Italy, but traffickers often convince those they take that they can get them settled abroad faster and easier than any legal ways. 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 Shia minority community, which is often targeted by extremist groups. Her family has said that this was not a factor in her wanting to leave Pakistan.
Just a few days before the shipwreck, other Pakistanis were killed when a ship that sank off the Libyan coast also tried to reach Italy.
“People leave out of desperation, they have no choice,” says Saadia. “Our government is not helping its people, you can see how inflation and the cost of living are here.”
After a long wait, Shahida’s family found out about the wreck online. They say they have not spoken to anyone from the authorities since the news broke.
“It’s like doomsday for our family,” says Saadia. She starts crying and stops our conversation to calm down. Family friends have been visiting in recent days to mourn. Local media gather outside the family’s house. “The day we heard that she is no more, only we and our God 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.”