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ICELAND (Tier 1)

The Government of Iceland fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Iceland remained on Tier 1. These efforts included investigating more trafficking cases, identifying more victims, and preparing and distributing guidelines for identifying child trafficking victims. In addition, the government allocated significantly more funds to the NRM and for service agreements with various shelters providing victim assistance. The government also established the foundation for two working groups comprising stakeholders from across the Nordic countries to foster collaboration and engage on investigations, best practices, challenges, and trends. The government amended the law permitting compensation claims at the appeal stage of court proceedings despite acquittals of convicted criminals, including traffickers, and ensuring legal aid at every stage of court proceedings, including if a trafficking case returns to the courts as a civil case. In response to the arriving refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, authorities created and distributed flyers on the dangers of trafficking, in English, Russian, and Ukrainian, to refugees from Ukraine and all applicants under international protection in Iceland. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not prosecute or convict any traffickers and continued to charge suspected traffickers under non-trafficking statutes, such as smuggling, that carried more lenient penalties and were easier to convict. Furthermore, the government reported incarcerating a potential trafficking victim for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

  • Vigorously increase efforts to prosecute and convict suspected traffickers and sentence them to significant prison terms.
  • Ensure trafficking victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result being trafficked.
  • Enhance training for investigating cases, including online cases, and collecting evidence against suspected traffickers.
  • 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 identification of victims among migrant workers, asylum-seekers, and children.

The government maintained 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. In 2022, authorities investigated seven new trafficking cases (one labor trafficking and six unspecified forms of trafficking), compared with five in 2021. The government did not prosecute or convict any traffickers, compared with one prosecution and conviction in 2021. Shortcomings, such as 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; this practice weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking crimes. The North Iceland Police maintained a 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. The Reykjavik Metropolitan Police maintained a unit for combating trafficking and commercial sex supported by a cyber-crime unit that monitored the internet for trafficking activity. With the rise in online exploitation, including trafficking, experts noted the need to build expertise investigating such 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 2022, the government allocated 19.9 billion Icelandic krona (ISK) ($140.5 million) to law enforcement for programs and activities countrywide and an additional 50 million ISK ($353,080) specifically to combat organized crime and facilitate increased interagency cooperation preventing trafficking and other related crimes. In 2022, the National Commissioner of Icelandic Police (NCIP) released a report on organized crime, revealing strong indicators that individuals located abroad controlled elements of organized crime in Iceland. While the crimes were diverse, several instances indicated exploitation of vulnerable populations related to human trafficking. As a result, the government enhanced cooperation among district police, prosecutors, and customs through joint investigations into organized crime, including trafficking, and bolstered cooperation with foreign counterparts. NCIP maintained responsibility for international law enforcement cooperation, and, in 2022, along with regional police departments, cooperated with foreign counterparts on international investigations, including a labor trafficking investigation with EUROPOL involving a man with disabilities forced into criminal activity. In addition, in 2022, officials from Finland, Iceland, and Norway established the foundation for a Nordic anti-trafficking working group, comprising stakeholders from across the Nordic region, to foster collaboration and engage on trends, best practices, challenges, and activities in their respective countries. Officials also established a law enforcement sub-group composed of Nordic police officers cooperating on investigations and trainings. Separately, NCIP and Iceland’s EUROPOL liaison participated in the Nordic Police and Customs Cooperation – a Nordic law enforcement platform where domestic law enforcement agencies assign police and customs officials as liaisons to other countries. Furthermore, a Ministry of Justice (MOJ) task force maintained 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. During the reporting period, the government provided a range of trafficking-related trainings for prosecutors, police, government employees, and professionals on various topics, such as trafficking indicators, and victim identification and resources.

The government slightly increased victim protection efforts. The government identified seven trafficking victims (one labor trafficking and six unspecified forms of trafficking), compared with five in 2021. All victims were foreign nationals; three were children. The Bjarkarhlid Family Justice Center maintained responsibility for the NRM and continued to serve as a “one stop shop” for victims of violence, including trafficking. The government allocated 35 million ($247,160) toward Bjarkarhlid for the NRM, a significant increase from 18 million ISK ($127,110) in 2021. 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. The center also distributed guidelines for identifying victims 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 2022, 12 trafficking victims received assistance from social services, compared with six victims in 2021. Municipal social service agencies provided services and financial assistance to victims, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MOSL) reimbursed the municipalities for all associated expenses. The MOSL’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 ($105,900) annually until 2023 to ensure the implementation of the guidance as well as all action items. Moreover, the government allotted 292 million ISK ($2.06 million) for service agreements with various shelters that provided assistance to victims, a significant increase from 234 million ISK ($1.65 million) in 2021. The government in partnership with an NGO maintained two shelters in Akureyri and Reykjavik for women and children; the shelters provided free counseling services for women. In southern Iceland, the government maintained a counseling and support center for victims of GBV, including trafficking victims. Male victims 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. Pursuant to the NAP, child protection authorities prepared and provided guidelines for identifying potential child trafficking victims for professionals working with children. In addition, an MOJ-led task force and the National Agency for Children and Families produced information on identifying trafficking indicators among children. 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 a coordinated, child-sensitive approach to preventing re-traumatization during investigations and court proceedings. All three child trafficking victims identified received services from the municipality and from Barnahus.

Icelandic law allowed victims to receive support services, regardless of their participation in investigations and prosecutions, and 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. In 2022, the government amended the law permitting compensation claims at the appeal stage of court proceedings despite acquittals of convicted criminals, including traffickers; ensuring legal aid at every stage of court proceedings, including if a case, such as a trafficking case, returns to the courts as a civil case; and providing better information disclosure on a case’s progress and access to documentation by the victim’s legal representative. In 2022, authorities reported incarcerating a potential trafficking victim for transporting illegal drugs as a direct result of being trafficked; as of the end of the reporting period, the investigation remained ongoing.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The government continued to implement the MOSL’s 2019-2022 NAP on preventing violence and its consequences and allocated 15 million ISK ($105,930), compared with 10 million ISK ($70,620) in 2021, for implementation of action items, including anti-trafficking activities. Separately, the government continued to implement its anti-trafficking NAP that included action items focused on bolstering public awareness, education, and institutional knowledge. Funding from the national budget financed relevant ministries and government agencies for implementation of NAP programs and activities. In 2022, the government and OSCE hosted a workshop on modernizing and strengthening the NAP with a focus on thematic priorities and improving operability for all those responsible for implementing the current NAP. The MOJ-led national steering group coordinated interagency anti-trafficking efforts through three task forces. The task forces 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 maintained an online emergency services portal for trafficking victims with information – available in English, Icelandic, and Polish – on trafficking indicators and assistance and provided a quick response code directing the public to the portal. The task force also provided SOPs for emergency hotline operators responding to suspected trafficking cases outside of the law enforcement process. 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 in the Public Procurement Act stipulated the liability of principal contractors to ensure all sub-contractors were paid in accordance with collective bargaining agreements. According to the tender conditions in Reykjavik, representatives from the municipality could inspect worksites and demand proof that contractors and subcontractors were following the proper legal conditions. 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 website providing information on the rights of foreign workers in Iceland and the resources available to them. In 2022, the government hosted a symposium on human trafficking in the labor market with a focus on the construction industry and discussed workers’ rights and trafficking risks. 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 would result in fines. Icelandic law prohibited companies, including recruitment agencies, from charging recruitment or hiring fees.

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Icelandic authorities have taken steps to mitigate the potential for trafficking among refugees by providing trafficking guidelines for border control and informational brochures on common trafficking indicators and local anti-trafficking resources for law enforcement, airport authorities, and other professionals in contact with potential victims. Authorities created and distributed flyers on the dangers of trafficking, in English, Russian, and Ukrainian, to refugees from Ukraine and all individuals under international protection in Iceland, regardless of their nationality. In addition, the MOJ lowered barriers for Ukrainians to seek asylum or refugee status in Iceland, and the government processed more than 25,000 Ukrainians for humanitarian protection in 2022. In January 2023, the Ministry of Education and Children’s Affairs allocated 140 million ISK ($988,630) to Icelandic municipalities to support Ukrainian resettlement. 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. 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. 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. Traffickers increasingly use the internet and social media to recruit victims. Most trafficking cases involve small business owners 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 raised concern about trafficking in Iceland and implicates nationals from the Middle East and southeastern Europe operating criminal organizations in sex trafficking. A separate police report notes a nascent nexus between asylum abuse and organized crime through which traffickers seek to manipulate the asylum system. Labor trafficking continues to be the largest concern in Iceland with migrant workers particularly vulnerable in the construction, tourism, and restaurant industries as well as domestic service. 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 are especially vulnerable to trafficking. 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. Refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and seeking sanctuary in Iceland are highly vulnerable to trafficking; Icelandic authorities confirm supporting approximately 2,500 refugees in Iceland since the war began.

U.S. Department of State

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