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  • Writer's pictureDetained in Dubai

21 year old NY student faces Dubai jail after appalling treatment at airport


21 year old New York student faces Dubai jail after humiliating airport treatment.

Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos faces hefty fines and prison time after being accused of “assaulting and insulting” Dubai airport staff. Elizabeth faced degrading, painful and humiliating searches when she transited through the international hub from Istanbul to New York.


Elizabeth is a hardworking New Yorker studying business arts student at Lehman College while working as operations manager in retail. After losing her 44 year old father and undergoing a surgery, she needed some time off and decided to accompany her friend to Istanbul for a few days. Unfortunately, the duo chose Dubai instead of Paris to stopover on the way home where she had only intended to spend ten hours. “We thought it would be a more modern and futuristic city but we were completely wrong”.

Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos dressed in graduation gown
Elizabeth studies at business arts in New York

Elizabeth is mandated by surgeons to wear a medical waist trainer suit (compressor) that goes around her waist, stomach and upper chest. When she arrived in Dubai on the 14th of July, a security officer told her they needed to remove her waist trainer. She was ushered into a booth with some plain clothed women in local dress. After a long day of travel, Elizabeth struggled to understand why they would need her to do this, considering the modern x-ray machines in place these days. It’s impossible for Elizabeth to take off her compressor and put it back on herself. She dreaded the process. “I was feeling uncomfortable and afraid. I felt really violated”. Elizabeth’s mother explained that the women were speaking Arabic and laughing at her. They were rough, hurting her swollen wounds as they removed the compressor. Elizabeth begged for help to put her compressor back on but they wouldn’t. They continued to laugh at her. Elizabeth tried to do it herself but there are “many many pins and you need to stretch the edges and clip small skinny pins together close to the body”. Elizabeth felt “really embarrassed and taken advantage of”. The women kept giving her “nasty stares” and refusing to help.


Elizabeth asked them to get another woman to help her, repeating her plea over and over again but they would just laugh and stare until she was forced to call out louder for help but still, her pleas fell on deaf ears. She tried to reach out to the curtain to call her friend to help but one of the women was standing in the way of her view. “I gently touched her arm to guide her out of the way then desperately started crying to my friend for help”, explained Elizabeth.


She was half naked, humiliated and in a state of “panic and misery”. The male officer responded, allowing her friend to go behind the curtain to help her dress. The search, of course, was clear but her nightmare was not over. Officers said Elizabeth was being detained for “touching the female customs officer”. She was kept in the room for several more hours while the women filed a complaint against her. Elizabeth broke down and cried, apologising for (lightly) “touching” the woman. She hadn’t hurt anyone, endanger anyone and she had already been put through a most humiliating and unnecessary process.


Elizabeth was forced to sign paperwork in Arabic before they allowed her to leave the airport. After a few hours, she returned to the airport to resume her flight to the US when she was told she had a travel ban against her.


Like many others, Elizabeth now faced months in Dubai awaiting a gruelling legal process that leaves most visitors broke, traumatised or worse. Elizabeth was supposed to resume work on the 17th of July and is currently undergoing physical therapy and treatments in the US where she attends the doctor’s office every other day. With her university having resumed in her absence and apartment lease expiring in September, the young woman feels like her world is closing in.


This has put an incredible weight on the family. Her mother is in “shock and suffering. She is really worried and keeps crying”.


Elizabeth reached out to Detained in Dubai after learning of Tierra Allen's (Sassy Trucker) recent release. Both Tierra and her mother Tina, have offered their support to Elizabeth.


Elizabeth moved from hotel to hotel for over two months. On the 24th of August, judges ordered she pay a AED 10,000 fine. She could have paid that fine and been on her way but customs officials appealed the sentence. “They either want her in jail or they want to pressure her into making a compensatory payment to them”, explained Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International. “Tourists have long been exploited by locals who seek to punish and extort them as a secondary form of income. Compensating complainants only exacerbates the situation. The government of Dubai should stop this type of corruption by banning government employees from being able to accept out of court settlements for criminal complaints. It is too much of an incentive to people in positions of power, resulting in incidents like this which damage the reputation of the UAE as a safe transport and tourism hub”.


Dubai courts automatically allow appeals whether or not there is merit. They have scheduled the next hearing for the 23rd of October, but Elizabeth has been advised that regardless of the outcome, the prosecution can appeal again and force her to remain in Dubai throughout. “Even if Elizabeth wins her case, 6 months or more of being forced to stay in the country at her own cost while under the very real threat of imprisonment, is an unacceptable consequence of transiting through Dubai”, added Stirling. “She is under the most incredible stress which is impacting her physical and mental health, disrupting her entire life and scarring her long term. This is simply no way to treat visitors. It’s outrageous”.

Detained in Dubai confirmed they are supporting Miss Polanco de los Santos, “We are reaching out to Elizabeth’s representatives, Congressman Ritchie Torres and Senators Charles Schumar and Kirsten Gillibrand for assistance. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Senator Ted Cruz recently became very proactive in their support for Tierra Allen when she was held in Dubai. Elizabeth hopes her members will show the same support.”

Stirling recalls Jamie Harron was also charged with assault after gently placing his hand on another male patron as he walked by in a busy Dubai bar. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum intervened and quashed the ridiculous case, but it seems not much has changed and anyone is at risk of a frivolous criminal prosecution if a complaint is made against them.”

Elizabeth’s mother has written a heartfelt letter to customs and immigration officials begging them to let her return home so she can resume her necessary medical care.

Without diplomatic intervention, Elizabeth faces months awaiting a final outcome of her trial, hefty fines and years imprisonment.


Radha Stirling

+44 7 309 114 195

 

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