Shahida Raza, a Pakistani professional hockey player who died when the boat she was on was wrecked off the coast of Italy on Sunday, had been trying to reach Italy to get medical treatment for her three-year-old son, her sister has told the BBC.
Saadia Raza said her older sister called from the ship, which had set out from Turkey four days previously, and said she was about to land in Italy.
“She was thanking God that she was nearly there,” Saadia tells us over the phone from her home in Quetta, in south-west Pakistan. “She said she was scared that something could have happened while she was travelling across the water. She told us she couldn’t believe it, that she would call her son and bring him for treatment when she arrived.”
Then the call 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 all trying to cross illegally to Europe. The wooden boat was thought to be carrying around 200 people; over 60 are known to have died.
Shahida had a very particular reason for making the dangerous journey, her family tells us.
“The one and only reason for her to take this trip was for her three-year-old son,” Saadia tells us. “He is very unwell, part of his brain was damaged when he had a stroke at 40 days old because of a fever. It left his brain partially damaged and one side of his body from is head to his feet is paralysed.”
Despite taking her son to different hospitals in Karachi, they could offer no treatment, Saadia says. Instead, they suggested Shahida take her son abroad in the hope that they might be able to offer him some treatment there. Shahida had been growing increasingly desperate.
“She said I can’t see my son like this, I want him to walk like normal children, that’s my only wish. She didn’t want to see her son lying down helplessly,” Saadia says.
“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 filled with tears.”
A professional hockey player for Pakistan’s national team and domestic football player, Shahida’s family say she wasn’t very well paid, despite traveling internationally to play, including to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Iran. (BBC)