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Syria: ICRC pleas for information on NZ nurse, two Syrians

Syria: ICRC pleas for information on a New Zealand nurse and two Syrians abducted in 2013

14 April 2019

Geneva/Damascus (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is making a public call for information about three staff members abducted in Syria more than five years ago.

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.

The three were traveling in a Red Cross convoy that was delivering supplies to medical facilities in Idlib, north-western Syria, when armed men stopped the vehicles on 13 October 2013. The gunmen abducted seven people; four were released the next day.

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.

"The past five and a half years have been an extremely difficult time for the families of our three abducted colleagues. Louisa is a true and compassionate humanitarian. Alaa and Nabil were committed colleagues and an integral part of our aid deliveries," said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC's director of operations. "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."

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Following the fall of the last territory held by Islamic State group, we fear there is an extra risk of losing track of Louisa, though we remain hopeful this period will instead open new opportunities for us to learn more about her whereabouts and wellbeing. We remind everyone that she is a victim of a kidnapping, and a hostage who has been held for many years.

"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," Mr. Stillhart said.


[Video here]

Statement by Dominik Stillhart, Director of Operations, ICRC:

“Today we are making a public plea for information about three of our staff members who were abducted in Syria in 2013.

The staff are Louisa Akavi, a dedicated and committed nurse from New Zealand who has been working for the Red Cross ever since 1988;

And also Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes, both Syrians, who have been working for us as drivers and both of them, I know, are loving husbands and caring fathers.

I want to tell you Louisa, Alaa and Nabil: we have continued searching for you throughout all these years and we won’t give up hope to see you once again among us.

Unfortunately and despite all our efforts, we don’t know what’s happened to Alaa and Nabil ever since 2013.

As to Louisa, we know that she is held captive by the Islamic State group and we have repeatedly received credible information about her whereabouts. The last such information dates back as recently as December 2018.

I can’t even start imagining the suffering and hardship Louisa has gone through. 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.

Today with the loss of territory of the Islamic State in Syria, the urgency to find our colleagues has reached a new peak. We are thus calling on anybody who has information on Louisa, Alaa and Nabil to urgently step forward and share this information with us.

This is the longest ever abduction case in the 156 years history of the ICRC. The past five years have been beyond difficult for the families and friends of Louisa, Alaa and Nabil who are desperately awaiting for news.

I finally would like to express my heart-felt gratitude to the New Zealand Red Cross and the government of New Zealand. Their committed support to the effort to find Louisa has been invaluable and I know their support will continue.”

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