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Red Cross reveals abducted staff in Syria, missing for 5 years

17 April 2019

Since 2014, New Zealand media outlets and some worldwide news organisations have had an agreement with the New Zealand government and the Red Cross to not make Akavi's abduction public, with fears it could put her life in jeopardy.

There is her extraordinary courage, spending decades putting her skills and undoubted passion for nursing into practice in some of the world's most risky places for the International Red Cross.

Most recently, Ms Akavi was believed to have been spotted in the ISIS stronghold of Sousa in December previous year.

In response, a spokesman for the Prime Minister later said New Zealand's objections were clearly made from the outset through the Foreign Minister Winston Peters' office to ICRC director-general Yves Daccord, as well as via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade post in Geneva. "This has been a uniquely complex and hard case. That is exactly what we have done here".

"This has involved members of the NZDF (New Zealand defence force) drawn from the Special Operations Force, and personnel have visited Syria from time to time as required", he said.

Media silence then ended Sunday after the ICRC published its call for information and spoke to the New York Times, putting her name out into the public, a move New Zealand disagreed with. This non-combat team was specifically focused on locating Louisa and identifying opportunities to recover her.

"Our sister and aunt Louisa was taken in Syria in October 2013".

Her frail mother, who is believed to have died in 2016, had not been told of her capture, and the family were terrified of what the shock of finding out might do to her.

New Zealand media have long known about her abduction but have not mentioned it due to an agreement with the local government. But there are hopes her medical skills might have caused her captors to spare her. "However, the New Zealand Government continues to work tirelessly to locate her and bring her to safety". Four of the abductees were released the next day, however, Louisa's fate, and that of her two Syrian colleagues, remains unknown.

Syrian driver Nabil Bakdounes.

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The New Zealand government is reported to have opposed the ICRC's decision to allow The New York Times to report Ms Akavi's name and nationality.

Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said in a press conference Monday that she will not comment on the actions of others.

Earlier, International Committee of the Red Cross director of operations Dominik Stillhart said the organisation was issuing a public plea for the return of Ms Akavi.

"We are speaking out today to publicly honor and acknowledge Louisa's, Alaa's and Nabil's hardship and suffering", Stillhart said.

"With Islamic State group having lost the last of its territory, we felt it was now time to speak out", he added.

"Following the fall of the last territory held by Islamic State group, we fear there is an extra risk of losing track of Louisa."

A relative of Ms Akavi said the family had a strong presence in the town of Porirua on New Zealand's North Island.

"Louisa is a true and compassionate humanitarian". In 2014, she was among a group of hostages moved by IS only hours before a raid by USA special forces that aimed to free them.

The ICRC said its last credible information regarding Akavi's well-being came in late 2018, but it had never been able to ascertain if Rajab or Bakdounes were dead or alive. "If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release".

The government's thoughts were with the family, he said.

Red Cross reveals abducted staff in Syria, missing for 5 years