By Samantha Loomes
Image Source: News Now
3 Red Cross members of staff were abducted five-and-a-half years ago in Syria while attempting to help refugees, now the company has become more fervent in their search for them following last months fall of the last Islamic state (IS) stronghold near the Iraqi border.
In October of 2013 Louisa Akavi, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes were abducted while on route to the Idlib province in Syria.
Following this, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) launched an investigation into finding the missing staff members, over the years the ICRC has received no information on Rajab and Bakdounes but has received information a few tips over the years on Akavi, in late 2018 they believe they received information that proved that Ms Akavi is alive.
She was spotted near the Euphrates River at the Syrian-Iraqi border, Dominik Stillhart, director of operations for the ICRC said that “This was incredible information to receive, apparent confirmation of her location, that she was still alive and that she was still doing what she is trained to do and has long done: providing medical care in a conflict zone.”
Which is why the fall of the stronghold near her location has spurred the investigation team to ask the public for any information they may have. They released a statement in which they 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”
Louisa Akavi, 62, is from New Zealand and is considered by the ICRC to be a “veteran of conflict zones”, she has worked and provided aid as a nurse in countries like Bosnia, Somalia, and Afghanistan. She has completed 17 field missions, survived the 1996 attack on the Red Cross compound in Chechnya, and in 1999 she was the recipient of the Florence Nightingale for her tireless work in providing relief in war-torn countries.
The ICRC had been in contact with ISIS in the earlier years that Akavi was kidnapped following a failed attempt to rescue her in 2014 that prompted threats from ISIS to kill her. Stillhart says, “We tried to reach out to and influence the Isis leadership by speaking to sheikhs in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. We spoke to prisoners in the Middle East who might be able to guide us towards fresh information.” They, however, refused to release her.
The investigation into finding Akavi has been a long and trying process, that according to Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, “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. This non-combat team was specifically focused on locating Louisa and identifying opportunities to recover her.”
Pawel Krzysiek who arrived in Syria six months after Akavi’s abduction said that they did not even know who abducted her or what the motivations were, he went on to say that Akavi, according to what they had found had been held by a number of groups, “Basically being moved from one territory to another from one defensive group to another until she ended up being held by the Islamic State group.”
The hope of a safe return has never died for the family members of the abducted victims, nor the ICRC who as part of their statement 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.”