Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 October 2019

Syria: Red Cross makes public appeal about staff abducted by ISIS in 2013

The three workers were kidnapped in Idlib, in the north-west of the country, while delivering medical aid

Red Cross worker Louisa Akavi, a New Zealand national. Reuters
Red Cross worker Louisa Akavi, a New Zealand national. Reuters

The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for information on three of its staff members who were abducted by ISIS in Syria more than five years ago.

Louisa Akavi, 62, a nurse from New Zealand, carried out 17 field missions with the international and New Zealand Red Cross.

Ms Akavi was no stranger to war zones, having worked as a Red Cross nurse in countries including Afghanistan and Somalia.

Syrian nationals Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes worked as ICRC drivers who delivered humanitarian assistance. Both are married men with children.

The three were travelling in a Red Cross convoy that was delivering supplies to hospitals in Idlib, north-western Syria, when armed men stopped the four vehicles on October 13, 2013.

The gunmen abducted seven people, four of whom were released the next day.

At the time, Syria's state news agency said the gunmen opened fire on the Red Cross vehicles before seizing the workers.

This undated photo provided on Monday, April 15, 2019, by International Committee of the Red Cross shows Syrian driver Nabil Bakdounes. New Zealand's foreign minister has confirmed a New Zealand nurse has been held captive by the Islamic State group in Syria for almost six years, information long kept secret for fear her life might be at risk. The collapse of ISIS has raised hopes Louisa Akavi and two Syrian drivers, Nabil Bakdounes and Alaa Rajab, kidnapped with her might now be discovered. (International Committee of the Red Cross via AP)
Syrian driver Nabil Bakdounes. International Committee of the Red Cross via AP

The workers had been in the field since October 10 to assess the medical situation in the area and work on ways to provide aid, the The New Zealand Herald reported in 2013.

During the years that Ms Akavi has been held by ISIS, the Red Cross has continued to try to win her freedom.

The organisation’s latest credible information indicates that she was alive in late 2018, but it has not been able to find out more details about Mr Rajab and Mr Bakdounes.

Red Cross driver Alaa Rajab. EPA
Red Cross driver Alaa Rajab. EPA

The report indicates that Ms Akavi was moved around regularly, including to Raqqa, the main ISIS stronghold in the country until October 2017

“The past five and a half years have been an extremely difficult time for the families of our three abducted colleagues,” said Dominik Stillhart, the Red Cross director of operations.

"Louisa is a true and compassionate humanitarian. Alaa and Nabil were committed colleagues and an integral part of our aid deliveries.

“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.”

For more than five years, the Red Cross and the New Zealand government imposed a strict media blackout on Ms Akavi because revealing details of her identity, such as her nationality or her name, could endanger her.

But now that ISIS has lost its "caliphate", the organisation believes there is less of a risk.

It says it remains hopeful and looks to “open new opportunities for us to learn more about her whereabouts and well-being”, Mr Stillhart said.

“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."

Updated: April 15, 2019 01:35 PM