A traveller’s 10-hour layover in Dubai International Airport has turned into a four-month nightmare, after an altercation landed an American student on the UAE’s no-fly list.
The 21-year-old travelling through a Dubai International Airport was involved in a confrontation with customs officials, which turned a long layover into a months-long legal ordeal.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was transferring via the UAE after a holiday in Turkey, but lengthy court appeals mean she is still unable fly home to New York. Now advocates for the tourist say she could face jail time.
According to a press release from rights advocates Detained in Dubai, De Los Santos and her travel companion had chosen to spend a long-layover in the glamorous Emirati travel hub over flights via Paris Charles de Gualle.
“We thought it would be a more modern and futuristic city but we were completely wrong,” she said.
The traveller was held at airport screening on July 14 after it was detected she was wearing a surgical “waist trainer” corset. The underwiring of which was picked up on airport screening.
De Los Santos was taken to a private room for additional screening, where female airport workers instructed her to take off the surgical corset. The passenger claimed that she was wearing this on medical advice, and had recently undergone surgery. The experience left her feeling “violated”, she said.
During this inspection the traveller was accused of “assaulting and insulting” Dubai airport staff.
De Los Santos denies this, saying she “gently touched her arm to guide her out of the way”.
The outcome meant she was denied board of her July 15 flight and still held in the UAE pending a verdict. Despite a court ruling on August 24 that De Los Santos pay a AED10,000 fine ($4500), customs officials have appealed the decision.
Rights advocates Detained in Dubai explain that, due to the UAE’s automatic appeal process, the passenger could be held in the country almost indefinitely.
“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”, says Radha Stirling the chief executive of Detained in Dubai.
Stirling inferred it was the customs officials appealing the decision, on the expectation that a court might award them compensation.
De Los Santos must now remain in the Emirate until the new hearing on October 24.
Stirling says the student is under immense pressure with her studies already restarted at Lehman College in her absence and a lease on her New York apartment having ended in September.
“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 Airport and the customs agency of the Emirates were contacted for comment.
Since 2008 Detained in Dubai has provided legal advocacy for expatriates and travellers held in the UAE.
De Los Santos contacted the advocates after hearing about Detained in Dubai’s work with US national Tierra Young Allen. The American influencer known by her alias the “Sassy Trucker” was released after a months-long legal dispute in the Emirates, after working with the for-hire advocacy group.