In an alarming turn of events, a young American college student, Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, finds herself at the center of a controversy in Dubai. The 21-year-old student from Lehman College in the Bronx has been sentenced to one year in a Dubai prison following a dispute with an airport security guard.
The incident unfolded during a layover in Dubai on July 14, when Elizabeth and her friend were returning from a vacation in Istanbul. Originally planning to connect through Paris, they opted for a 10-hour layover in Dubai to explore the renowned city. Little did they know that this choice would lead to a harrowing ordeal.
As they passed through airport security, Elizabeth was asked to remove a waist compressor, a medical garment she needed due to a recent surgery. What should have been a routine procedure took a distressing turn when airport staff, all female, handled the situation poorly. According to Elizabeth’s mother, they were rough and caused pain to her daughter’s still-healing surgery scars. To make matters worse, they callously laughed at her discomfort.
As Elizabeth struggled to put the complicated garment back on, she desperately called out to her friend for assistance. Feeling violated and uncomfortable, she “gently touched” the arm of a security guard to guide her out of the way. She recalls the incident with a sense of distress, stating, “I was feeling uncomfortable and afraid. I felt really violated.”
However, this momentary interaction led to a cascade of events that would change Elizabeth’s life. The security guard she touched filed a complaint against her, leading to her detention in a room for hours. She was not allowed to leave until she signed a form written in Arabic, which she could not understand.
Trapped in a foreign country, Elizabeth had to stay in hotels for weeks, incurring significant expenses and legal costs, totaling a staggering $50,000. All this while she was unable to pursue her university studies back in New York.
After a lengthy legal battle, a judge allowed Elizabeth to pay 10,000 AED (approximately $2,700 US) and leave Dubai. However, this respite was short-lived, as Dubai prosecutors appealed the ruling. Shockingly, on Monday, she was sentenced to a year in prison, casting a dark shadow over her future.
The situation has garnered attention from advocacy group Detained in Dubai, with its founder, Radha Stirling, expressing outrage at the treatment Elizabeth has endured. Stirling emphasized, “This is simply no way to treat visitors. It’s outrageous.”
The U.S. State Department has been alerted to the detention of an American citizen in Dubai, though they have not yet issued a formal response. Meanwhile, Lehman College, where Elizabeth is a student, has remained silent on her situation.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos is not the only American to have faced such troubling circumstances in Dubai recently. Tierra Young Allen, a 29-year-old from Houston, spent months trapped in the country after an altercation with a rental car clerk. She was finally able to return home after paying approximately $1,300 to lift the travel ban against her.
As Elizabeth’s case continues to attract attention, questions arise about the treatment of foreigners in Dubai and the potential impact on diplomatic relations. For now, a young American student’s future hangs in the balance, as she faces the prospect of a year behind bars in a foreign land.