Red Cross makes appeal for staff abducted in Syria

Elias Hubbard
April 15, 2019

Red Cross worker Louisa Akavi, a New Zealand national, is seen in this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Reuters on April 14 2019.

The Red Cross is seeking information about three staff members abducted in Syria five-and-a-half years ago.

The ICRC said its last "credible information" regarding Akavi's well-being came in late 2018, but it had never been able to ascertain the fates of Rajab or Bakdounes.

There are increased concerns for Ms Akavi's safety following the fall of the last territory held by Islamic State (IS) near the Iraqi border last month.

On Monday, New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said his government had worked since 2013 to locate and repatriate Akavi.

Ms Akavi has been seconded to the global Red Cross, and numerous questions regarding operational matters should be directed to them at a press conference due to be held at 5pm, Mr Dyer and Ms Lawless both said.

The NZHerald has been told that her captors made contact with the woman's family in New Zealand through email, demanding a ransom and warning that media coverage of her situation would lead to her death. "Alaa and Nabil were committed colleagues and an integral part of our aid deliveries", said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC's director of operations.

She is a "friend, a colleague and a mentor" who wanted to "use her skills to make a difference for some of the world's most vulnerable people", she added.

As proof-of-life the terror group provided personal information about Akavi including the number of her insurance policy, which the New York Times quotes her family as saying she kept with her on a card.

"We continue to look for her".

"Every decision was to maximize the chance of Louisa's freedom. and every decision was co-ordinated with the New Zealand government", Stillhart said at a news conference in Geneva.

He said the NZ Government agreed with the decision, and he was surprised by Ardern's comments about objecting to Akavi's name coming out. "We think with new information from the public, we can redirect the investigation for Louisa".

There have been other credible sightings in Abu Kamal in 2016, Raqqa in 2017 and Mayadin previous year, officials with the aid group said.

But with the collapse of ISIS in recent weeks, the Red Cross has broken its silence, hoping publicity will help the organisation find her. What we actually know is that Louisa has been working as a nurse during her abduction which shows her dedication and commitment to the mission and mandate of the Red Cross - caring for people affected by conflict. "Louisa went to Syria with the ICRC to deliver humanitarian relief to people suffering as a result of a brutal civil war and ISIS occupation". Efforts to track Akavi continued with New Zealand calling on its Five Eyes relationships. Publicly naming her, authorities feared, would put her in grave danger.

Akavi has now been held longer than anyone in the Red Cross' 156-year history. "Unfortunately our hopes haven't materialised".

"It absolutely remains the government's view that it would be preferable if this case was not in the public domain", she said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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