New Zealand aid worker remains missing

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has confirmed a New Zealand aid worker remains missing more than five years after she was taken hostage in Syria.

Louisa Akavi was abducted on 13 October 2013 while working as a humanitarian aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It is believed she had been held by ISIS from very early on since then.

“Throughout the past five years, the New Zealand Government and the ICRC have always worked on the basis that Louisa was alive and that hope still remains.  We continue to work together to locate and recover her,” Mr Peters said.

“This has been a uniquely complex and difficult case. Louisa went to Syria with the ICRC to deliver humanitarian relief to people suffering as a result of a brutal civil war and ISIS occupation. Where a New Zealander is held by a terrorist organisation the Government takes all appropriate action to recover them. That is exactly what we have done here.”

“There has been continued commitment every step of the way over these years to ensure everything possible was being done without jeopardising Louisa’s safety. That has been, and remains, paramount in progressing efforts to find her,” said Mr Peters.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has led a significant and sustained whole-of-government effort. This has also involved a wide range of other agencies, and cooperation with international partners.”

“This effort has included the deployment of a small multi-agency team based in Iraq. This has involved members of the NZDF, 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,” he said.

“We have now reached a point where all the territory once held by ISIS has been liberated. Unfortunately the current whereabouts of Louisa is unknown. However, the New Zealand Government continues to work tirelessly to locate her and bring her to safety.”

“Since her abduction, successive governments have not disclosed any information about Louisa and asked a number of media outlets not to do so either. In these situations the priority must be the safety of the hostage and we received clear advice that any publicity would place Louisa at even greater risk,” he said. 

“The Government is very grateful for the co-operation of media outlets over many years in respecting this advice and undertaking not to publish.  This has required careful consideration by these media organisations and we thank them for their principled approach.”

“We recognise the media context has changed with Louisa’s situation now public via international publications. However, this does not alter the fact that this is an ongoing situation and the New Zealand Government will continue to work to identify and develop any, and all, opportunities to find Louisa and bring her home. New Zealanders will appreciate that there is little further the Government can say about this at this point. Louisa’s well-being remains our primary focus.”

“Since Louisa was abducted, the Government has also focused on supporting her family. We cannot imagine what an enormous ordeal this has been, and continues to be, for them. They have displayed extraordinary courage and strength throughout the past five years.”

“Our thoughts are with them. It remains a very distressing situation, and no more so than now. We ask that their privacy be respected.”

“The efforts to locate and recover Louisa are ongoing, and there a number of operational or intelligence matters the government won’t be commenting on,” said Mr Peters.