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Trapped in a Syrian camp, former Coquitlam college student near death on hunger strike

United Nations human rights experts say Kimberly Polman has "life-threatening illnesses" and is a traumatized victim of human trafficking who should be allowed to return to Canada.
Kimberley Polman
Four years before she married an ISIS fighter and joined the Caliphate, Kimberly Polman was presented with the Women's Opportunity Award in Port Moody, B.C. (via Submitted)

Eleven years ago, a mother of three was studying to be a children's advocate at Douglas College in Coquitlam.

Today, Kimberly Polman is fighting for her life in a Syrian camp where she was placed after turning herself in to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2019.

Polman, who won a Soroptimist Woman's Opportunity Award in 2011, has written repeatedly to authorities about the conditions in the Roj camp, and has the backing of Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

A recent examination by Doctors Without Borders states that her condition is “life threatening,” as Polman suffers from hepatitis, kidney inflammation/enlargement, untreated Hashimoto’s disease, bone/muscle issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious mental health issues.

She has several broken teeth, has been deprived of her prescription eyeglasses, and, after going on a hunger strike to protest detention conditions, has "lost more than half of her body weight."

The UN group says the Canadian government has ignored her family's requests for repatriation, medical attention and a replacement for her Canadian passport — a prerequisite to return to Canada.

Polman had been working on a legal administration diploma while attending Douglas College.

However, four years later, she met an ISIS member online and left Canada to be with him.

According to reports from Human Rights Watch, Polman was an adult convert to Islam and headed to Syria in 2015 after she "met and married an ISIS member online who persuaded her to join him with promises of love and a career in nursing."

The United Nations group has now taken up her case, saying that it's been communicating its concerns to the Canadian government since the fall of 2021.

It believes Polman meets the requirements of repatriation because conditions at the camp meet the threshold of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

“Victims or potential victims of trafficking should not be placed in situations that expose them to multiple forms of abuses,” the experts said.

“The failure of their home state to protect individuals in such situations perpetuates and contributes to further victimization of those who have already experienced violence and trauma.”

Polman grew up in a Mennonite family in Hamilton, Ont., and lived for awhile in Metro Vancouver.

In a 2019, an article by The Associated Press (AP) — excerpts of which were published in the Tri-City News — Polman said she quickly became disillusioned with the militants and feared for her life.

“How could I have been so stupid, and so blind?” Polman, the then 46-year-old woman told the AP.