In search of a better life for herself and her son, Shahida Raza, a member of the Pakistan national hockey and football teams, left QUETTA for Turkey in October of last year.
After three months in Turkey, Raza and up to 199 other migrants left Izmir in western Turkey on February 22 in an overcrowded wooden boat and made it to the coast of Italy four days later. Each migrant reportedly paid traffickers around 8,000 euros ($8,540) to make the dangerous sea journey, as reported by Italy’s Guardia di Finanza Police.
On Sunday, however, the vessel ran aground while attempting to dock in Crotone, a port city in southern Italy, and sank. 67 people were killed, at the very least. The foreign ministry of Pakistan reported that 17 Pakistanis were saved, while 2 were reported missing and 2 were killed. The deceased included Raza.
The woman’s family, who knew she was 30 years old, learned of the shipwreck on Sunday through the news.
Raza’s mom, Gul Zewar, said she had last talked to her on Friday, two days before the tragedy.
She called her mother and said, “Mother, I have arrived,” Zewar told Arab News from her Quetta home.
“She had a lovely voice. ‘Mother, I have arrived,’ she proclaimed. The time has come, God willing, for us to disembark. After that, her phone service was cut off. We learned that the boat had sunk on Sunday.
Raza, who is of the Shiite Hazara ethnic group in Pakistan, has traveled the world with Pakistani national hockey and football teams, competing in tournaments as far afield as China, Malaysia, Iran, Qatar, and Sri Lanka.
The single mother had played for her country for twenty years, but she was now unemployed.
She desperately sought employment in Balochistan, specifically in her hometown of Quetta. To Arab News, Raza’s friend Sumiya Muhstaq said, “She really tried, but she got no response.” Muhstaq was speaking in front of a table covered in Raza’s medals, trophies, and certificates.
There was a lot of desperation on her part when she made the choice to embark on an illegal migrant boat. No one ever takes a decision like that with joy.
Sadia Raza, Raza’s sister, explained that Raza made the harrowing trip so that she could be near her disabled son, who was staying with their father’s mother in Quetta.
In Raza’s absence, it was not clear who would take permanent responsibility for his care.
The following is a sample of her regular prayer life: “Oh God, for the sake of my child, make my journey successful. Sadia told Arab News, “Get me there for my son so I can call him there and I can get his treatment done. Doctors over here had given up hope.
Hazaras have been persecuted in Pakistan for decades, with hundreds killed in bombings of schools and markets and brazen ambushes of buses along Pakistani roads over the past two decades. To protect themselves, most Balochis stay within their fortified neighborhoods.
Because she was seeking financial independence as a single mother, she approached many government officials asking for job opportunities in her field of expertise as an international sportswoman. “The provincial government did not back her up despite repeated requests, and she was ultimately driven to take the life-threatening action that ultimately proved fatal,” Mushtaq said.
On Thursday, Raza’s loved ones gathered at her mother’s house to remember her, and they recalled how “very passionate about sports” she had been ever since she was a little girl, and how she had defied family pressure to become a sportswoman “because she wanted to play for Pakistan.”
The Pakistan Football Federation issued a statement of condolences following Raza’s death, saying that it “shocked the entire football fraternity in Pakistan.”
Haroon Ahmed Malik, chairman of the FIFA Normalization Committee, said in a statement, “The news of the death of an ex-international football star player in an accident is extremely painful.” He went on to say that Raza had been a member of the national women’s football team for years and had competed in a number of international competitions.
Members of the football community agree: “Her impact on the game will be remembered forever.”
A mutual friend of theirs, Mushtaq, once declared, “There is no match for Shahida.”
She claimed that “she proved herself in every field,” including football and ice hockey.
All that Raza’s family asks for now is for the Pakistani Embassy to make “quick arrangements” to bring her body home to Pakistan.
“Our embassy in Rome (is) actively engaged with the Italian authorities for the welfare of the Pakistani survivors and the transportation of the mortal remains of the deceased,” Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign office in Islamabad, told reporters on Thursday.
In a message to authorities, the girl’s mother asked that her daughter’s body be returned to Pakistan so that she could be buried there.
“We want to see her face one last time and complete her rites as per Islamic customs,” her sister Sadia said as she covered her face with a black shawl and began to sob.
Our goal is to physically bury her.