“I stayed in the cell for 30 hours”: Alex’s trip turns into a nightmare… because of a piece of candy

The story seems improbable and yet Alex (not his real name) was stuck for several days in Abu Dhabi after a customs check. The cause: a piece of candy that fell to the bottom of his bag that local authorities mistook for drugs. The Belgian denounces a case of arbitrary detention.

It’s a trip they will remember for a long time. Alex (not his real name) went to Thailand with his partner. “It was wonderful“, he says. It was after that that things got tough. On the way back, the couple had a stopover planned in the United Arab Emirates. “As it was a 12 hour layover, we thought we would go visit a little“, says the main person concerned.

But that’s where the problem lies. “As we were leaving, we were stopped for a random check at customs.“, explains the man who is a police officer in everyday life. So far, nothing abnormal, in all airports, more in-depth checks are organized randomly at customs posts. Only, very quickly, Alex understands that something something is wrong: “The agent searched my belongings very carefully and stopped on a piece of candy that had fallen into the bottom of my bag. He started asking me if I used cannabis, before outright stating that I did.“.

I find myself in a common cell, I will stay there for 30 hours

After the brief interrogation, the person leaves with the candy in question and “medicines that were in the bag“to do a drug test.”I am told that if it is negative, I will be able to leave. No worries, I know he will“, said Alex.

Everything could have ended there, but it’s escalation. The Belgian assures that no test was carried out in front of him. The customs officers carried out a body search, they mentioned a blood test which they ultimately will not do either. “I am told that I will have to go to the police station located in the airport. After three hours, the police came to pick me up. I find myself in a room, I understand that it is a common cell and I will stay there for 30 hours“, remembers Alex.

Neither to drink nor to eat

There is panic. When he hears about prison, Alex “anguish” : “I wonder what will happen to me“.

The cell he is in is cramped. He gives details of his conditions of detention: “The place is pretty clean, but there are sometimes 15 of us there. There is a toilet, they don’t give us anything to eat or drink and they don’t let us sleep. There is light 24 hours a day“.

The only consolation prize was that Alex was able to take advantage of another inmate’s hidden phone to warn his partner who “suffered a lot” she was also very worried. After being informed, she was able to contact the embassy as part of consular assistance.

3,000 euros lost in total

After 30 hours of detention, apparently for no good reason, Alex was released for €600. He obviously paid the requested amount and the couple tried to return to Europe as quickly as possible. “We took the first flight. We went to Rome, then we came back“, he says. Total cost of the operation, between plane tickets, “release” and hotel nights: €3,000.

Alex will try to recover the 600 euros that were taken from him, but doesn’t have much faith in it. And he is right according to François Graas, campaign coordinator at Amnesty International: “It is a State that is very unresponsive to requests from abroad, recourse is very limited”.

Furthermore, Alex’s mishap does not surprise our interlocutor much: “The context in the United Arab Emirates is quite repressive. We have many cases of arbitrary detentions. (…) It is a country that wants to give itself a positive image globally, but in concrete terms, we see that it is a country where human rights are not respected.“.

Contacting the embassy, ​​the right reflex

We met the FPS Foreign Affairs who confirmed having been in contact with Alex’s partner. If the person concerned believes that the help provided was not sufficient, turning to the embassy is the right thing to do. “People who face this kind of situation can contact the embassy within the framework of consular assistance and it will try to help them in any way it can.“.

Therefore, before leaving, find out about the Belgian embassy responsible for the country you are visiting.

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The spokesperson, Nicolas Fierens Gevaert, also advises “all Belgians traveling abroad to consult the travel advice beforehand” on their website. He specifies that in the case of the United Arab Emirates, for example, there is particular attention to the fact that there is zero tolerance when it comes to drug trafficking and that we must be very vigilant.

Here there appears to be no offense, Alex just had bad luck. Why did you stop him? Why did you decide to let him go for €600? These questions remain, for the moment, unanswered. But the main person concerned intends to follow up.

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