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Fleeing Pakistani hockey player dies in Italian boat tragedy

Shahida Raza, Pakistan's international hockey player perished when a migrant boat from Turkey crashed near south Italy (Photo: Twitter)

Among the 63 Pakistani, Afghan and Iranians who lost their lives in the Italian boat tragedy was 27-year old Shahida Raza – an international-level hockey player from Pakistan. Nearly 40 Pakistanis from Punjab province lost their lives this Sunday when a migrant boat crashed against rocks near south Italy.

Member of the Shia Hazara community, Raza was trying to flee the nation known for its vehement persecution of Shias, along with that of other ethnic and religious minorities. Within the Shias, the Hazara community figures on top of the hate list as many have been killed in ethnic violence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The hockey player was also a national-level football player.

Raza was on the overloaded boat that sailed from Turkey to Italy with nearly 200 migrants from war-torn and conflict-ridden countries hoping for a better future in Europe. The Sunni majority Pakistan is currently reeling from bad governance, rising inflation, food shortages as well as violence.

The Pakistani media reports that the hockey player is mother to an infant daughter who was not with her in the boat.

The incident has highlighted the poor conditions in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia and Syria which force its people to undertake risky journeys to a peaceful and stable Europe that provides equality to minorities and freedom to women.

The Hazara community, large numbers of whom are based in Quetta, capital of restive Balochistan, has expressed deep sorrow over the incident. Community leaders have urged the Shehbaz Sharif government to take measures to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.

Many Hazaras from Quetta have left Pakistan for the safety of the US after they saw rampant discrimination and targeted killings of friends and family members. Hundreds of Hazaras have been killed for practicing their faith in a country which puts blasphemy at the top of its agenda and constitutionally outcasts Muslim groups that may differ slightly in their belief of Islam.

The Hazara Inquiry report released in the British parliament by the Hazara Committee UK last month says that the Hazaras have suffered from extensive persecution and discrimination in Pakistan, which has been compounded by the Taliban takeover in neighbouring Afghanistan. Discrimination and hate against the Hazaras is so deeply entrenched that they have been attacked by the Taliban as well as the Islamic State (IS) in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Even the poorest of the Hazaras are not spared ethnic hate in Pakistan as coal miners in Balochistan have been regularly killed, sometimes in the most brutal manner.

In a similar migrant tragedy barely a fortnight back, 18 Afghans were found dead due to suffocation in a truck parked on a dirt track outside Bulgarian capital Sofia. Investigators found that the truck was transporting 52 people hidden under wooden planks.

As poverty and hunger descend upon a tottering Pakistan, more of its citizens are bound to look for a better life elsewhere that is free from hate, discrimination and wanton killings. There will be more gifted migrants like Shahida Raza seeking a better life out of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Also Read: Pakistan slammed for enforced disappearances and conversions at UN meet