NEW YORK (PIX11) — Elizabeth Polanco de los Santos is finally back in New York after several nightmarish months detained in Dubai.

The Lehman College student was passing through the Dubai airport on her way home from a trip to Turkey on July 14 when she was detained. Dubai officials alleged she assaulted and insulted an airport security employee by touching her arm.

But activists who helped bring the 21-year-old home said there’s more to the story. They say Santos faced a painful and degrading search when she went through security. Afterward, she tapped a security woman for help with a medical device, but she was detained for allegedly “touching the female customs officer” during the search.

“It’s just out of a nightmare, out of a movie, and what she experienced is unimaginable. I don’t think they can put themselves in their shoes and imagine how frightened they would be,” said Detained in Dubai CEO Radha Stirling.

Serling heads an organization dedicated to helping people unfairly detained in Dubai.
She said Santos is relieved to be back home safe with her mom.

But the emotional toll on the 21-year-old has been huge. In addition to being detained and sentenced to jail, she missed her studies and wasted thousands in expenses.

“Elizabeth was only supposed to be there for six hours in transit on the way back from Istanbul. So it’s quite extreme she wound up there for [several] months. Lost $50,000 and actually faced imprisonment,” said Stirling.

She said Santos’ nightmare is by no means the only one. She warned against travel to Dubai.

“In many instances, it’s actually an extortion scheme where people make complaints against foreign nationals, and they expect the lawyer to come forward and offer them a high compensation payment in order to drop that case,” added Stirling.

The U.S. State Department confirmed they know the case and monitor the situation in Dubai.

“We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad,” said a State Department official.

NewsNation’s Taylor Delandro contributed to this report.