'We just want her home': Family of Louisa Akavi issues emotional statement

Louisa Akavi's family have issued their first public statement since the news of her kidnapping broke on Monday.

The Kiwi nurse was working for the Red Cross in Syria when she was taken hostage by Islamic State (IS) in October 2013. Her whereabouts are currently unknown.

The New Zealand Government and media have kept her capture secret for the last five years while secret efforts were made to negotiate her release. However the New York Times has made her name public, freeing all media to report on Akavi's situation.

Family spokesperson Tuaine Robati has released a video statement on behalf of the rest of the Akavis.

"Our family misses her very much and is concerned for her safety," the statement reads. "We think about her every day and hope she feels that and finds strength in that. We know she is thinking of us and that she will be worried about us too."

The statement describes Akavi as an "incredibly experienced" nurse and aid worker who "knew the risks of her job".

"Our family is incredibly proud of her and of the work she's dedicated her life to. 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."

In 1996 Akavi survived a mass shooting in a Red Cross hospital base in war-torn Chechnya, and spoke to TV3 the following year about the trauma of seeing six of her colleagues shot dead.

"We all know the risks when we take these assignments," she said at the time.

Akavi's family says they have been in regular contact with and supported by the New Zealand Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the New Zealand Government for the last five years.

"We miss Louisa very much. We love her and we just want her home."

The family says they don't intend to make any further public statements and have asked for privacy.

Also to issue a statement on Monday was Avril Patterson, the health coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen. She met Akavi while the two were working in the Philippines in 2010 and later worked together in Afghanistan.

Patterson was set to meet up with her friend in October 2010, and arrived in Syria the day after Akavi and six other aid workers were abducted.

In her statement, Patterson described Akavi as an "amazing human being" with a sharp sense of humour and no-nonsense attitude toward her work.

"I remember when I arrived in Afghanistan, [Akavi] was just about to leave and she told me 'Avril, don't take any nonsense from these boys', because I was going to be the only female expat in the office after she left. But amid that toughness, she is also incredibly kind and humble."

Patterson says Akavi is chatty and outgoing, unafraid to "tell it how it is" but knows when to be calm and respectful.

"She's just one of these people  when you meet her, you want to be just like her," she says.

"She loves being out in the field, not because she enjoys the hardship, but because that's where she can talk to people to really understand what they need. It's where she feels most useful and where she can really feel the impact of her work."

Patterson also describes arriving in Syria to the news that Akavi had been kidnapped.

"I was told that she had been waiting for me and that she was going to cook me dinner. Of course that dinner never happened. If I could speak to her now, I'd tell her 'You owe me dinner'.

"We all miss her and think about her every day. She's not once been forgotten."


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