Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, a 21-year-old student, was sentenced to one year in prison in Dubai after being accused of “assaulting and insulting” airport staff during a layover while on her way back to New York City on July 14th. The student has now been given permission to return home, after enduring months of legal battles, during which she had to cover approximately €47,000 in expenses and court fees.
When police granted her a reprieve from her sentence, allowing her to return to New York City, the young women was “ecstatic to be returning to the US after five months of anguish”, according to Detained in Dubai, an advocacy organization that supports foreign nationals who have been detained and prosecuted in the United Arab Emirates.
Accompanied by a friend on a brief journey, Elizabeth’s original plan was to only spend 10 hours at Dubai International Airport, while passing through from Istanbul to New York. When going past security at the international hub, the young woman was asked to remove a medical brace she wears around her waist and upper chest by the airport security officers and was led to a booth where female officers searched her. The staff was “speaking Arabic and laughing at her”, according to Elizabeth’s mother, who revealed the young woman felt “really embarrassed and taken advantage of”.
While asking the security screeners to allow her friend into the search booth to help her get the medical waist trainer suit back on, Elizabeth “gently touched” the arm of one of the officers leading to her detention. She was held in a room for several hours as the officer filed a complaint against. After signing a form in Arabic, she found out she was not allowed to leave the country. According to Detained in Dubai, Elizabeth was subjected to “degrading, painful and humiliating” treatment, going through offensive searches that left her “half naked”.
The student was sentenced to one year in prison on October 2nd and was “extremely worried that she [would] be detained in the notorious Al Awir prison and [wouldn’t] be allowed to leave the country”, said Detained in Dubai. Her sentence was however suspended on October 3rd and she was allowed to return home.
“Elizabeth’s hellish five months in Dubai left her humiliated, traumatised and out of pocket $50,000. Elizabeth was falsely accused of assaulting and insulting a customs official when she was stripped and humiliated upon entering the desert city during a transit stop”, said Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai.
Stirling has cautioned that additional measures are required to ensure the safety of travelers passing through Dubai. “Tourists are vulnerable to vindictive, false and unevidenced allegations that could leave them languishing in notorious jails. They are vulnerable to extortion schemes like we see from airport staff, rental car agents, taxi drivers and so on”, she stressed.