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Pakistani hockey player among Italy shipwreck deaths

A former member of Pakistan's women's hockey team was among the dozens who died in a shipwreck involving a migrant boat in southern Italy on the weekend, officials in Islamabad say.

Shahida Raza, 27, represented Pakistan in several international games, the Pakistan Hockey Federation said.

Seeking a better future for her disabled son, Raza enlisted human smugglers to get her out of the country.

According to her friend and former teammate Summaya Kainat, Raza left her home on the outskirts of Quetta, in southwestern Baluchistan province, four months ago for neighbouring Iran and then Turkey, with the aim of eventually reaching Italy or Australia and seeking asylum there.

Raza was a member of the Shi'ite Muslim Hazara minority, a sect often targeted by Islamist militants, and had opted for asylum because she believed it was easier to gain refugee status after illegally entering these countries than to get a regular visa, Kainat added.

The Foreign Ministry in Islamabad said there were 20 Pakistanis onboard the boat which was carrying the migrants from Turkey to Italy.

Of them, at least four died in the shipwreck, the ministry added.

Every year, several thousand impoverished Pakistanis take the dangerous overland and sea routes, attempting to reach Europe in the hope of better life.

They pay millions to human traffickers but risk their lives while making the journey.

Pakistani officials said they were planning a new crackdown on people smugglers in the province of Punjab after the boat tragedy.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday visited the town of Crotone, where dozens of bodies of the deceased migrants were laid out in a sports hall.

Mattarella prayed for a few minutes in front of the wooden coffins.

He was greeted with applause by relatives, locals and onlookers in the town in the southern Italian region of Calabria.

Some called for "justice".

There is fierce debate in Italy about whether mistakes were made by the authorities in the search and rescue efforts on Sunday night.

At least 67 people died when their boat broke up and sank just off the coast early on Sunday morning.

Among the dead were more than a dozen children.

More bodies are still being searched for.

About 80 people were rescued.

Some of them are in a hospital in Crotone.

Mattarella also visited them and brought toys for the children, ANSA news agency reported.

During his visit, he also thanked the rescue workers and medical staff.

with Reuters