She Was Kidnapped Five Years Ago By ISIS, Where Is Louisa?
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is pleading for any information regarding Louisa Akavi, a New Zealand nurse abducted by ISIS in 2013, as they believe she may still be alive.
The ICRC released a public call for any information regarding three members of their staff who were abducted in Syria more than five years ago.
Among them is Akavi, a (now) 62-year-old nurse who carried out more than 17 field missions with the ICRC and the New Zealand Red Cross.
She has had extensive experience working on the front line of conflicts in places such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Iraq. 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.
Akavi has been awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest honour for courage and devotion given by the Red Cross.
In October of 2013 Akavi was travelling with an ICRC team across north-western Syria delivering medical supplies when they were stopped by armed men who abducted seven members of their party -- the terrorists released four the next day.
Akavi was kidnapped with two Syrian nationals, Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes, who were working as ICRC drivers. The ICRC state that they have received no information on the whereabouts of the two men since the abduction.
Akavi was held with a group of at least 23 Western hostages in Syria, including American journalists James Foley and Steven J. Sotloff, as well as David Cawthorne Haines, a British aid worker -- all of whom were publicly and brutally murdered by the terrorists.
According to Zew Zealand publication Stuff, Akavi struck up a close friendship with 26-year-old American aid worker, Kayla Jean Mueller. The pair shared a cell with two Yazidi teenagers who had been abducted and in 2015 they reportedly had the opportunity to escape with the girls but both turned it down as Akavi was too sick to leave and Mueller stayed out of loyalty.
Former New Zealand foreign minister, Murray McCully, confirmed in an interview with Stuff that the women decided their attempt could sabotage the teenagers' escape.
Mueller was sold to ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and endured rape and torture at the hands of her captor until she was killed in an air strike in 2015.
The ICRC believes that Akavi may have been kept alive all of these years because of her medical experience and there have been reports that she has worked in a hospital following her abduction.
The New Zealand government, defence agencies, and media have kept Akavi's case out of the public eye until now for fear that any news might increase her profile and subsequently, her chances of execution.
The ICRC state that they have made "continued and repeated efforts to win her freedom" since Akavi's capture and their last credible reports indicate that she was still alive in late 2018.
Dominik Stillhart, the director of operations at the ICRC, released a video statement discussing Akavi's case.
"I can't even start imaging the suffering and hardship Louisa has gone through," Stillhart said.
"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."
Akavi's family have remained relatively quiet but have released a statement this week discussing their love and pride for their sister and aunt.
"She has true goodness in her heart, that's why she became a nurse -- she loves helping people. She's been through tough times in her job before, but she stuck at it because she loves it."
"We miss Louisa very much. We love her and we just want her home," the family said.
The final piece of territory that ISIS-held in the Syrian town of Baghouz on the Euphrates River was claimed by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in March of this year following a lengthy bombing assault.
Tens of thousands displaced by the conflict have taken refuge in the Al-Hawl refugee camp.
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.
While the New Zealand government are unsure if she is still alive, they believe that if she is, she will likely no longer be captive after the fall of the final ISIS stronghold.