Iceland (Tier 1)

The Government of Iceland fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government made key achievements to do so during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Iceland was upgraded to Tier 1. These achievements included prosecuting and convicting one trafficker, marking the government’s first prosecution and conviction in 12 years. In addition, the government identified and assisted more potential trafficking victims and funded a new counseling and support center for victims of gender-based violence, including trafficking victims. The government also established a law enforcement advisory panel that worked with foreign law enforcement agencies and anti-trafficking organizations and cooperated with international organizations on data collection regarding trafficking trends and responses. Furthermore, the government funded and published a new online emergency services portal with information on trafficking indicators and assistance, developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for emergency services operators responding to suspected trafficking cases, and financed production of educational videos to help workplace inspectors detect potential incidents. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it continued to charge suspected traffickers under non-trafficking statutes, such as smuggling, that carried more lenient penalties. Moreover, the government did not have a formal identification and referral process for child trafficking victims.

  • Significantly increase efforts to convict suspected traffickers and sentence them to significant prison terms.
  • Investigate and prosecute trafficking cases under the trafficking statute.
  • Enhance training for investigating cases and collecting evidence against suspected traffickers.
  • Establish a formal identification and referral process for child trafficking victims.
  • Proactively identify trafficking victims and refer them to care facilities for assistance.
  • Screen all vulnerable individuals for trafficking indicators.
  • Increase training for police, prosecutors, judges, and other officials on all aspects of trafficking, particularly on proactive identification of victims among migrant workers, asylum-seekers, and children.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. Article 227a of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, the government amended Article 227a to define expressly additional forced labor acts as forms of trafficking, which more closely aligned Article 227a with the international definition of trafficking. Observers commended the amendments, which helped lower the burden of proof required for a trafficking charge under the law and its potential impact on prosecuting alleged traffickers. The Reykjavik Metropolitan Police maintained a three-person unit for combating trafficking and commercial sex supported by a cyber-crime unit that monitored the internet for trafficking activity. The North Iceland Police maintained a two-person team focused on commercial sex and labor violations, and the Southwestern District Police, which covered the border police at Keflavik International Airport, operated a unit specializing in major crime investigations, including trafficking. In 2021, authorities investigated five trafficking cases (four sex trafficking and one unspecified), compared with four cases in 2020. For the first time in more than a decade, authorities prosecuted one alleged trafficker. Authorities referred another trafficking case to prosecution but ultimately prosecuted the case under a non-trafficking statute. Similarly, for the first time in more than a decade, courts convicted one trafficker. The convicted trafficker received a sentence of four years in prison and paid damages to the victims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking crimes. The National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police (NCIP) maintained responsibility for international law enforcement cooperation, including with Europol and Interpol, on international investigations. In 2021, the NCIP and Iceland’s EUROPOL liaison joined the Nordic law enforcement group on combating trafficking and assigned police and customs officials as liaisons to the Nordic Police and Customs Cooperation. Furthermore, in 2021, a Ministry of Justice (MOJ) task force established a law enforcement advisory panel that worked with foreign law enforcement agencies and anti-trafficking organizations and collected data and information regarding trafficking trends and responses from international organizations. The panel relayed information to Icelandic police districts and assisted those districts in determining whether a case should be considered as trafficking and how it should be investigated. In addition, the task force developed a new process for registering trafficking cases into law enforcement databases.

Experts noted that limitations of a small government administration, structure across government institutions, and resources restricted progress and coordination. For instance, lengthy investigations and inadequate evidence collection led prosecutors to charge suspects under non-trafficking statutes, such as smuggling, that carried more lenient penalties and were easier to convict. However, local experts expected the amendments to the trafficking law to result in increased prosecutions in the coming years. In an effort to ensure successful implementation, the government conducted training sessions for prosecutors and law enforcement on the amendments, as well as on investigation methodologies and prosecuting trafficking cases. In recent years, reports indicated a rise of organized crime and associated violence; the government reported trafficking was often one component of larger prosecutions linked to organized crime. In December 2021, the NCIP released a report on organized crime, which included a comprehensive analysis on trafficking, noting trends, drivers, and methods utilized by traffickers in Europe and Iceland, and implicated criminal organizations connected to nationals from the Middle East and southeastern Europe in organized trafficking.

The government increased victim protection efforts. The government identified 46 potential trafficking victims, a significant increase from nine potential trafficking victims in 2020. The majority of potential victims were adult foreign nationals; however, authorities identified three potential victims younger than 15 years old. Of the 46 potential victims, authorities confirmed five as trafficking victims; all were female. The Bjarkarhlid Family Justice Center maintained responsibility for the national referral mechanism (NRM) and continued to serve as a “one stop shop” for victims of violence, including trafficking. The government allocated 3 million Icelandic krona (ISK) ($23,080) for the NRM, the same amount as in 2020. Through the NRM, the center coordinated social services and law enforcement involvement, provided victims with assistance, and compiled victim information and case history into a centralized database. Furthermore, the center utilized a standardized questionnaire for victims to better quantify and identify vulnerable groups. In 2021, the center developed a tool with indicators for identifying victims and distributed it in locations where victims received assistance, such as health clinics. The police maintained identification and referral procedures requiring them to contact welfare services in the municipality and the Ministry of Social Affairs to coordinate victim care and placement. The Directorate of Immigration (DOI) provided staff with comprehensive SOPs for screening asylum-seekers for potential trafficking; SOPs also dictated referral paths for and processes applying to potential unaccompanied child trafficking victims. A team of experts referred victims to relevant NGOs or institutions providing short- or long-term care.

Overall, the government maintained a well-managed social welfare system with robust protections. All victims had access to free legal, medical, psychological, and financial assistance, whether or not they stayed at a shelter or cooperated with authorities. In 2021, six trafficking victims received assistance from social services, compared with three victims in 2020. Municipal social service agencies provided services and financial assistance to victims, and the Ministry of Welfare (MOW) reimbursed the municipalities for all associated expenses. In 2021, the government allocated 15 million ISK ($115,400) toward the Bjarkarhlid Center for housing, counseling, health care, and financial assistance. The MOW’s action plan on preventing violence and its consequences, which included action items to combat trafficking and provide services for victims, called for the creation of standardized guidance for all anti-trafficking service providers and allocated 15 million ISK ($115,400) annually until 2023 to ensure the implementation of the guidance, as well as all action items, no later than 2022. Moreover, the government allotted 234 million ISK ($1.8 million) for service agreements with various shelters that provided assistance to victims. The government in partnership with an NGO maintained a women’s shelter in Akureyri, the largest town in northern Iceland. In southern Iceland, the government provided 1.5 million ISK ($11,540) for a new counseling and support center for victims of gender-based violence, including trafficking victims. There were no accommodations available for male victims, although they could access general municipal social services and receive referrals to NGOs providing food, shelter, legal advice, and health care. Under the Child Protection Act, all children dwelling in Iceland had the same right to protection and services from child welfare. Municipal and national child protection services were responsible for assisting unaccompanied children, including child trafficking victims. Observers noted shortcomings in the assistance process for unaccompanied children, noting that the DOI placed such children in an unsupervised reception center with no child protection staff, only one security guard, and free access from other residents, putting them at risk to trafficking. Additionally, experts reported there was no formal identification and referral process for child trafficking victims. If authorities came across a case involving a potential child trafficking victim, they contacted local child protection authorities who were responsible for ensuring accommodation and other services. Child trafficking victims received support, including interviews and medical examinations, at Barnahus—a multidisciplinary and interagency center offering child victims, including child trafficking victims, a coordinated and effective response to prevent re-traumatization during investigations and court proceedings. All three child trafficking victims identified received services from the municipality and from Barnahus. Icelandic law allowed foreign trafficking victims to obtain either a nine-month residence permit or a one-year renewable residence permit, which was available to victims who faced retribution or hardship in their home countries or cooperated with law enforcement. Officials noted, in most instances of suspected trafficking, foreign victims opted to leave the country instead of cooperating with investigations. Police took official reports for all victims, except in cases involving children, in which a specialized psychologist took their statements. In accordance with the NRM, victims could receive a state-appointed and state-funded attorney, as well as social workers and psychiatric services. While there was no specific restitution program for trafficking victims, such a program existed for victims of violence and could be applicable for trafficking victims. Under the Icelandic judicial system, if a legal proceeding yielded a conviction, the court could order restitution as part of sentencing.

The government increased prevention efforts. The government continued to implement the MOW’s 2019-2022 action plan on preventing violence and its consequences, and it allocated 10 million ISK ($76,930) in 2021, a considerable increase from 6 million ISK ($46,160) in 2020, for implementation of its action items, including anti-trafficking activities. Separately, the government continued to implement its national action plan (NAP), which included action items focused on bolstering public awareness, education, and institutional knowledge. Three task forces comprised the MOJ-led national steering group, which coordinated interagency anti-trafficking efforts. The task forces, which focused on prosecution, protection, and prevention, respectively, incorporated a range of government and non-government stakeholders, including a survivor, and developed specific policy proposals to implement the NAP. The protection task force published a new online emergency services portal for trafficking victims with information available in English, Icelandic, and Polish on trafficking indicators and assistance, and it provided a quick response code directing the public to the portal. The government allocated approximately 800,000 ISK ($6,150) to promote the portal. The task force also developed SOPs for emergency hotline operators responding to suspected trafficking cases outside of the law enforcement process and financed production of educational videos to help workplace inspectors detect potential incidents. The prevention task force worked on a project focused on corporate social responsibility and chain of responsibility revolving around public procurement. The task force met with government parties responsible for implementation of directives relating to public procurement in the NAP to conceptualize user-friendly materials explaining how to apply legal provisions and including a summary on chain of responsibility. Supply chain responsibility provisions in the Public Procurement Act stipulated the liability of principal contractors to ensure all sub-contractors were paid in accordance with collective bargaining agreements. The Act also stipulated if a bidder or a participant was a convicted trafficker, they were barred from procurement bids for a minimum of three years. In cooperation with EU countries, the Directorate of Labor (DOL) continued to participate in a two-year project aimed at reducing labor violations and labor trafficking, by combating unregulated employment and social dumping, whereby workers were given pay or living or working conditions that were sub-standard compared to the law. The DOL maintained a three-person team to respond to suspected trafficking cases and educate government employees on trafficking and identifying potential victims. The DOL also maintained a website providing information on the rights of foreign workers in Iceland and the resources available to them. While the government did not require recruitment agencies to be licensed or registered in Iceland, the DOL required all companies contracting workers in Iceland to register with the DOL and provide information on business activities and workers; breaches of these requirements resulted in fines. Icelandic law prohibited companies, including recruitment agencies, from charging recruitment or hiring fees.

In response to an inflow of Ukrainian refugees who were fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion on Ukraine and arriving in Iceland, the government developed trafficking guidelines for border control and published informational brochures on common trafficking indicators and local anti-trafficking resources for law enforcement and airport authorities, among others. Additionally, the MOJ lowered barriers for Ukrainians to seek asylum or refugee status in Iceland, and the government processed more than 1,000 Ukrainians for humanitarian protection. While the government did not operate a trafficking-specific hotline, the country’s general emergency telephone number provided information to victims on services and directed callers to appropriate responders. Government efforts to combat sexual abuse, including trafficking, extended abroad with the allocation of 20 million ISK ($153,870) to a project in South Sudan. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not report providing anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel but noted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintained a code of conduct for diplomats.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Iceland, and to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit victims from Iceland abroad. Authorities report that most trafficking cases involve small businesses or individual traffickers, who are foreign nationals living legally in Iceland and engaging in other criminal activities. Reports indicate a recent increase in organized crime and its association with organized trafficking. A 2021 police report on organized crime raises concern about trafficking in Iceland and implicates nationals from the Middle East and southeastern Europe operating criminal organizations in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit women from Africa, Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and South America in sex trafficking and men and women from Asia, the Baltics, Eastern Europe, and West Africa in forced labor. Labor trafficking continues to be the largest concern in Iceland, with migrant workers in the construction, tourism, and restaurant industries, as well as domestic service, particularly vulnerable. However, labor union officials report fewer migrant workers in Iceland due to the pandemic. Foreign “posted workers” are at particular risk of forced labor as the traffickers pay them in their home countries and contract them to work for up to 183 days in Iceland to avoid taxes and union fees, limiting tax authorities’ and union officials’ ability to monitor their work conditions and pay. Asylum-seekers and foreign students in Iceland are especially vulnerable to trafficking. A police threat assessment report notes a nascent nexus between asylum abuse and organized crime through which traffickers seek to manipulate the asylum system. Traffickers reportedly exploit the visa-free regime in the Schengen Zone and the European Economic Area to bring victims to Iceland for up to three months and move them out of the country before they must register with local authorities. Foreign nationals and Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children, who are fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion on Ukraine and seeking sanctuary in Iceland, are highly vulnerable to trafficking; Icelandic authorities confirm more than 50 Ukrainian citizens have applied for asylum in Iceland since the war began.

U.S. Department of State

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