Red Cross seeks news on fate of three staff missing in Syria since 2013

Red Cross seeks news on fate of three staff missing in Syria since 2013

GENEVA- Reuters
Red Cross seeks news on fate of three staff missing in Syria since 2013

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has appealed for information on the fate of three employees abducted in Syria more than five years ago and last known to have been held by ISIL.

Breaking its silence on the case on April 14, the independent aid agency identified the three as Louisa Akavi, a nurse from New Zealand, and Syrian drivers Alaa Rajab and Nabil Bakdounes.

"Our latest credible information indicates that Louisa was alive in late 2018," it said.

U.S.-backed forces proclaimed the capture of ISIL’s last territory in Syria last month, eliminating its rule over a caliphate it had proclaimed in Iraq and Syria in 2014.

ICRC officials said Akavi might have been swept up among some 70,000 women and children who fled to al-Hol camp after the fall of ISIL, many of them jihadist sympathizers.

"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," the ICRC said in a statement providing a Syrian contact number: +963 953 555 745.

The three were travelling in a Red Cross convoy in October 2013, delivering supplies to medical facilities in Idlib, northwestern Syria, when it was stopped by armed men. Four other people abducted with them were released the next day.

The Swiss-run agency has a policy of never paying ransoms.

Akavi, now 62, joined the ICRC in 1988 and has worked in a number of hotspots.

She has been held longer than anyone in ICRC's 156-year history, said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC director of operations worldwide.

New Zealand's government said it was searching for Akavi. Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the government had deployed a non-combat team based in Iraq that included special operations personnel, "focused on locating ...and identifying opportunities to recover her."

After being moved by IS forces to Raqqa in 2017, Akavi was seen in Al-Bukamal in late 2018, close to the Syrian-Iraqi border, the last concrete information on her whereabouts, Stillhart said.