Syria: ICRC pleads for information on 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, the 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."

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," Stillhart said.

Note to media:
Family members of Louisa, Alaa and Nabil do not wish to be contacted for interviews. We ask you to respect that wish.

A video statement on this plea for information by the ICRC's director of operations, and footage of the ICRC on the ground in Syria, is available for broadcast use here:

The number to contact with information about our colleagues: +963 953 555 745

For more information, please contact:

For the International Committee of the Red Cross:

Ewan Watson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 244 64 70
Anastasia Isyuk, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 251 93 02
Sara Alzawqari, ICRC Beirut, tel: +961 3 138 353
Matt Morris, ICRC London, tel: +44 7753 809471
Anna Nelson, ICRC Washington, tel: +1 202-255-2715
Pawel Krzysiek, ICRC Bangkok, tel: +66 81 950 12 70

For the New Zealand Red Cross:

Ellie van Baaren, communications manager, New Zealand Red Cross, tel: +64 27 541 1267