Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, a student, faced an unexpected legal battle in Dubai, potentially resulting in a year-long prison term. This incident highlights the critical need for robust support systems for travelers ensnared in foreign legal proceedings.

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Who is Elizabeth Santos?

Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, a 21-year-old student at Lehman College in the Bronx, found herself ensnared in a nightmarish legal ordeal in the United Arab Emirates. Accused of “assaulting and insulting” an airport security guard during a layover in Dubai, she faced a potentially devastating one-year prison sentence.

This harrowing saga unfolded when Los Santos, along with a friend, was returning to New York from a vacation in Istanbul. Opting to change their flight plan for a brief layover in Dubai, they hoped to explore the renowned city. However, their expectations were quickly shattered.

At Dubai’s airport security, Los Santos was instructed to remove a waist compressor, an essential item following a recent surgery. Guided to a private booth, female staff members removed the device, yet their approach was far from gentle, causing pain to Los Santos’ still-healing surgical scars. To make matters worse, they callously laughed at her distress and callously refused assistance in reassembling the complex garment.

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Feeling violated and fearful, Los Santos sought solace in her friend. In her desperation, she gently touched an obstructing security guard, hoping to continue her journey and find much-needed support. This act led to a nightmarish turn of events.

The security guard filed a complaint against Los Santos, leading to her detention in a room for hours. The situation escalated, and she was compelled to sign an Arabic-written form before being allowed to leave. However, her nightmare was far from over. Upon her return to the airport for her flight to New York, she was confronted with a travel ban. Her journey home was abruptly halted as charges were brought against her.

As weeks turned into months, Los Santos faced mounting expenses, having to stay in Dubai hotels while awaiting legal proceedings. Although a judge eventually granted her the option to pay a substantial fine for release, this respite was short-lived. Prosecutors contested the ruling, culminating in the distressing one-year sentence handed down.

Throughout this ordeal, Los Santos endured immense stress, adversely impacting her physical and mental well-being. Her life was disrupted, and the experience left long-lasting scars. The treatment she received was not befitting of a visitor, and Detained in Dubai founder Radha Stirling highlighted the gravity of the situation. The U.S. State Department has acknowledged the matter, while Lehman College has refrained from commenting on Los Santos’ status as a student.