It is definitely about time we scratch Dubai off of our lists of great vacation spots and overseas cities we wish to visit one day. It’s just not looking like the paradise our social media feeds purport it to be based on all these stories about Americans, particularly women of color, ending up having extended stays there, not because they’ve had such a good time, but because they violated the prettiest of petty and non-sensical laws under the United Arab Emirates.
According to Insider, 21-year-old Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, a student at Lehman College in New York, was only making a stop at the Dubai International Airport while traveling from Istanbul back to New York in July. What should have been a 10-hour layover turned into a months-long stay behind bars after she was detained for—*checks notes*—touching a security guard’s arm, a “crime” for which she was ultimately sentenced to one year in prison.
“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 lawyers costs,” Radha Stirling, the founder of Detained in Dubai said in a statement.
“She’s now been told she has a one-year prison sentence but that if all ‘goes well,’ she will only be detained until she can book a flight out of the UAE.”
Insider reports that the woman was wearing a doctor-mandated waist-training brace and took it off upon request from female security officers at the airport. When she asked for help putting it back on because it usually takes two people to do so, the officers said no and reportedly blocked her exit.
That’s when things reportedly went left because of a simple touch from Polanco De Los Santos.
At this point, she “gently touched” the arm of one of the security guards so they could get her friend to help, a press release from Detained in Dubai said. Officials then told her she’d be detained for “touching the female customs officer.”
During the same month Polanco De Los Santos was detained, we reported on a similar situation involving 29-year-old Black woman Tierra Young Allen of Houston, Texas. Allen was detained in Dubai after committing the monstrous “crime” of—*checks notes again*—shouting at someone who shouted at her.
She was arrested for getting into a loud verbal altercation with an aggressive car rental employee and was also threatened with prison time. Insider reported that “Allen had to pay about $1,300 to have a travel ban lifted by local Dubai authorities, who arrested and detained her for months for “screaming in public” following a car accident.
“American citizens need to be aware that Dubai is a dangerous place to visit,” Radha Stirling of Detained In Dubai said. “Any country where a mere unevidenced allegation can result in lengthy imprisonment is an unacceptable choice for tourists, and Dubai needs to work hard to stop this kind of legal abuse.”
As for Polanco De Los Santos, she’s finally been released and she’s coming home.
And while she’s “ecstatic to be returning to the U.S. after five months of anguish,” she’s still out of $50,000 and facing the trauma of the experience.
“We are of course thankful that Elizabeth is on her way home but is that really a happy ending?” said Radha Stirling of Detained In Dubai in a statement. “She should have been home in May. Instead, she has been left with the scars of an incomprehensibly traumatic experience for a young student, she has lost US$50,000 that she will never be compensated for.
Furthermore, she’s been convicted on the basis of mere allegations, sentenced to a year’s prison, fined, and deported. That in itself is a disgrace.”
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