10 hr transit turns into 1 yr nightmare, costing $50,000: NYC college student jailed for ‘insulting an guard’
NYC student gets 1-year UAE jail term for airport incident; advocates criticize harsh treatment and emotional toll.
A college student from New York City has been sentenced to one-year imprisonment by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for allegedly assaulting and insulting a female airport security guard during a flight layover at Dubai airport.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, a 21-year-old student of Lehman College in the Bronx, was sentenced on Monday after spending almost three months stuck in Dubai due to a travel ban imposed on her. Elizabeth was supposed to take a transit flight from Dubai airport after a 10-hour layover on her way from Istanbul to New York. But allegedly her time at the airport turned into a nightmare when she allegedly faced degrading and invasive searches by airport staff.
Radha Stirling, Human Rights activist who is helping Elizabeth expressed concern over her situation, talking to Insider she said, ‘Elizabeth only intended to transit through Dubai for six hours, but she’s been there for months on end and has lost $50,000 in expenses and lawyer costs.’
Elizabeth's misery began on July 14, when she and a friend were returning home to New York from a vacation in Istanbul. Originally, their travel plans included a period of rest in Paris, but they decided to change their flight to connect through Dubai to have the opportunity to explore the renowned city during a ten-hour layover.
Trouble started at the airport security checkpoint when Dubai airport personnel requested that Elizabeth remove a waist compressor that she was required to wear post-surgery. She was taken to a private area, where female staff members removed the compressor.
However, Elizabeth's mother claimed that they handled it roughly and caused pain to her daughter's still-healing surgical scars. Furthermore she adds, they mocked her, and when she requested assistance to put the complicated garment back on, they declined.
Elizabeth said, “I was feeling uncomfortable and afraid. I felt really violated." The compressor had "many pins, and you need to stretch the edges and clip small skinny pins together close to the body." She continued to ask for help, and when staff continued to ignore her, Elizabeth the claims she gently nudged one staff member's arm to guide her out of the way and called out to her friend for assistance.
Following this incident, Elizabeth was detained in a room for several hours as the security guard she touched filed a complaint against her. She was not allowed to leave until she signed a document written in Arabic.
Upon her return to the airport later to catch her flight to New York, she was informed of the travel ban against her and was compelled to remain in the country until the charges against her were addressed in court.
After weeks of staying in hotels, a judge allowed her to pay 10,000 AED (approximately $2,700 USD) and depart the country. Nevertheless, Dubai prosecutors appealed this ruling, and now she has been ultimately sentenced to one year in prison.
The U.S. State Department mentioned in a statement to Newsweek on Sunday that they are "aware of the detention of a U.S. citizen in Dubai." Advocacy groups, legal representatives, and concerned citizens are rallying support for her cause, urging the US State Department to revise travel warnings regarding the risk of false allegations and extortion scams in Dubai.