Published: Wed, April 17, 2019
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Red Cross makes appeal for staff abducted in Syria

Red Cross makes appeal for staff abducted in Syria

"Every decision was to maximise the chance of Louisa's freedom. and every decision was co-ordinated with the New Zealand Government", said Dominik Stillhart, Red Cross global director of operations.

Armed men stopped their convoy on October 13, 2013, and abducted seven people, four of whom were released the following day. Islamic State had previously warned she would be executed if details of her capture were made public.

The fall of the group's so-called caliphate in late March provided an impetus to make the search public, the statement said.

"Though, we remain hopeful this period will instead open new opportunities for us to learn more about her whereabouts and wellbeing", ICRC said. Efforts to track Akavi continued with New Zealand calling on its Five Eyes relationships. This non-combat team was specifically focused on locating Louisa and identifying opportunities to recover her.

At a news conference Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refused to answer questions about Akavi but indicated she was disappointed the ICRC had gone public before her fate had been learned.

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.

The New York Times have reported that ICRC members have made weekly visits to the Al-Hawl camp with a photograph of Akavi, showing it to camp officials with hopes that they will recognise her.

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"The government is very grateful for the cooperation of media outlets over many years in respecting this advice and undertaking not to publish. and we thank them for their principled approach".

But he said it was believed Akavi was still held by IS and there were ongoing operations to locate her which included the deployment of a small multi-agency team based in Iraq. She is the longest-held captive in the history of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Stillhart called her "a true and compassionate humanitarian".

Ardern said that this position was made clear to the ICRC, but the ICRC, which took the initial lead in efforts to find Akavi, chose to make a public plea for information. "If our colleagues are still being held, we call for their immediate and unconditional release", he said.

Ms Akavi, a citizen of New Zealand, is a 62-year-old nurse who has carried out 17 field missions.

He also asked for any information about two Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes, who were also taken.

"Our family misses her very much and is concerned for her safety", Mr Robati said.

While they are used to her being overseas for her job, this has, of course, been an extremely stressful and worrying situation for them.

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The war in Syria, which began in 2011, has claimed more than 370,000 lives and forced millions of people to flee their homes.

Since the last patch of ISIS resistance in Syria was wiped out last month, the Red Cross has launched an appeal to trace them over fears they may have been executed.

Akavi was stationed in Chechnya in 1996 during a brutal attack that saw six of her Red Cross colleagues killed by masked gunmen at an ICRC hospital near Grozny.

Mr Dyer said the Red Cross does not pay ransoms, and he was not aware of her family asking for a ransom to be paid.

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

The organisation has 98 foreign workers and 580 Syrians working in the country.

"One possibility is that Louisa is in this camp in northern Syria where the tens of thousands of ISIS wives, children and supporters have been taken after the last little bit of territory under ISIS rule in the country fell to American-backed forces", Ms Callimachi said.

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

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