The details released this week about the plight of New Zealand nurse Louisa Akavi — held captive by Isis for nearly six years — must surely strike horror into the hearts of all of us. The Red Cross nurse's situation in the war-ravaged lands of Syria, given the intermittent intelligence and the appalling accounts of those who escaped, can only be imagined.

The unbearable limbo of not knowing her whereabouts and wellbeing must have been a terrible strain on her family.

Family spokesman Tuaine Robati could only touch on that burden in his dignified statement this week: "We think about her every day and hope she feels that and finds strength in that. We know ... she will be worried about us too."


The world's governments and media have worked hard in her interests by keeping her name out of the spotlight during these past five and a half years, and it can be hoped this has been some small solace.

The decision to withhold her name was mutually agreed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the New Zealand Government. Media, including the Herald, have co-operated by maintaining "radio silence" on the situation.

The Herald will always work hard to tell stories in the public interest but the decision not to publish in this case was straightforward. We had been told publication of Akavi' s name and nationality would put her life in even more peril.

However, as the Islamic State territory was wiped out following the fall of Baghouz, Akavi's employers at the ICRC decided it was time to lift the veil in an all-out attempt to find her.

It now seems unlikely the decision to make her name public was mutual but just how our Government could be so out of step with the ICRC seems at odds with the co-operation which has been so resolute.

"Decisions have been taken that were not our own," Ardern bluntly said soon after the naming, "and I won't be commenting any further on decisions made by others."

ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart expressed surprise, saying he met with a Government official as recently as Friday and "we were fully aligned in terms of what we are now doing, going public".

Peters reiterated Ardern's comment saying the Government was aware the ICRC was talking with the New York Times and advised at the "highest level of New Zealand's preference not to publish". He said the Government continues to consider the release of Akavi's story now "increases the risks to her life".

While Akavi's fate must remain the key concern in all of this, one troubling facet has emerged. How did the aid agency come to believe it had this Government's support when the leaders of this Government clearly did not, and still do not, agree?

Louisa Akavi went to Syria with the ICRC to deliver humanitarian relief to those suffering from a brutal civil war and Isis occupation, despite huge risk to herself. Her family is very proud of her, as we all should be.