An International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) statement on the whereabouts of the New Zealand nurse, Louisa Akavi, 62, indicated that “Our latest credible information indicates that Louisa was alive in late 2018” after her abduction five years ago.
Akavi was with two Syrian drivers, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes, from the ICRC delivering supplies to Idlib in Northern Syria when they were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in October 2013. They were with four other members of an ICRC team who were also abducted by IS but who were subsequently released the next day.
Akavi is a veteran of conflict zones having worked in Bosnia, Somalia, and Afghanistan. She survived an attack on an ICRC compound in Chechnya in 1996 in which six colleagues were killed. She received a Florence Nightingale Medal for services to nursing in 1999.
An ICRC report released on April 15th stated:
“Louisa Akavi, a citizen of New Zealand, is an experienced, dedicated and resilient nurse who has carried out 17 field missions with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the New Zealand Red Cross.
Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes, both Syrian nationals, worked as ICRC drivers who delivered humanitarian assistance in the country. Both were dedicated husbands and caring fathers.
During the many years that Louisa has been held by Islamic State group, the ICRC has made continued and repeated efforts to win her freedom, even as the dynamics in Syria continued to change. Our latest credible information indicates that Louisa was alive in late 2018. The ICRC has never been able to learn more details about Alaa and Nabil, and their fate is not known.”
For months ICRC employees have been visiting detention camps in Northern Syria with a photo of Akavi. As more territory is being freed from the Islamic State a database of IS escapes has been compiled. Finding her also has a symbolic gesture as she is one of the last of a group of at least 23 Western hostages held by the terrorists who were either killed or released for ransom in this bloody chapter in the region’s history.
Red Cross officials have spoken of sightings of Akavi with two witnesses claiming they had seen her in a clinic in Sousa which is currently still an IS enclave. A previous report by the Red Cross confirms that she was see in Abu Kamal in 2017 and in Mayadeen last year. US intelligence and New Zealand government officials believe that based on these sightings of Akavi that there is a very strong possibility that she could still be alive.
According to the 2018 Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), between 1997 and 2017 the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations suffered the highest number of casualties while conducting their humanitarian missions—-154 casualties in 2017 alone.
Overall in 2017, 158 major incidents of violence against humanitarian operations occurred in 22 countries, affecting 313 aid workers.
Although 2016 saw no significant rise in the number of attacks and victims globally, there was a 30% rise in fatalities.
In 2017, 139 aid workers were killed, the second highest of any year since 2013 when 156 deaths were recorded. The majority of these attacks occurred in the conflict-affected countries of Afghanistan, Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan and Syria, which together accounted for two-thirds of all major incidents involving aid workers.
A YouTube statement by the brother of Louisa Akavi released yesterday stated:
“Our sister, cousin, and aunt Louisa was taken in Syria in October 2013. Our family misses her very much and is concerned for her safety. We think about her every day and hope she feels that and finds strength in that. We know she is thinking of us and that she will be worried about us too.”
“… Our family has been in regular contact with and supported by New Zealand Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the New Zealand Government throughout this ordeal. We miss Louisa very much. We love her, and we just want her home. We do not intend to make any further statements. For the safety of Louisa, and for our family at this difficult time, we ask the media to please respect our privacy.”
The New Zealand government is very reluctant about the ICRC releasing Akavi’s name for fear that it would put her in danger. However, they have been working since 2013 to try and locate her by sending in members of the New Zealand Defence Force’s Special Operations Force.
The ICRC statement reveals the magnitude of the crisis:
“The past five and a half years have been an extremely difficult time for the families of our three abducted colleagues.” And that, there is a risk of losing track of Akavi with the chaos of the fighting for the last territory held by the Islamic State but that we “remain hopeful this period will instead open new opportunities for us to learn more about her whereabouts and wellbeing.”
Dominik Stillhart, ICRC’s director of operations said:
“We call on anyone with information to please come forward. If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release. We are speaking out today to publicly honour and acknowledge Louisa’s, Alaa’s, and Nabil’s hardship and suffering. We also want our three colleagues to know that we’ve always continued to search for them and we are still trying our hardest to find them. We are looking forward to the day we can see them again.”