Iceland is a destination and transit country for women subjected to sex trafficking from Eastern Europe, the Baltics, Nigeria, and China. Some men and women are subjected to forced labor in massage parlors, restaurants, and as au pairs in private houses through threats and withholding of documents. Women are subjected to sex trafficking in nightclubs, bars, and “champagne” clubs. Women from Nigeria, who were coerced into prostitution in other European countries through threats of voodoo curses, sought asylum in Iceland. Authorities suspect the involvement of foreign organized crime groups in sex trafficking. Women are subjected to domestic servitude and sex trafficking through forced marriage in which the trafficker withholds earnings and maintains control over their wives’ food and health care. Traffickers often threaten victims with deportation. Traffickers reportedly exploit the visa-free regime in the Schengen Zone to bring victims to Iceland for up to three months and then move them out of the country before the point at which they would need to register with local authorities.
The Government of Iceland fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government created and filled a dedicated position to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts among various agencies. Investigations increased, although the government did not prosecute or convict any trafficking offenders. The government identified more victims than in the previous reporting period. It did not launch any awareness activities to educate the public on how to identify and report possible cases of trafficking.
Recommendations for Iceland:
Investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders; conduct public awareness activities focused on increasing identification of sex and labor trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; formalize procedures for social service workers, health officials, labor inspectors, and NGOs to identify and refer victims to care; continue to build trust with victims of trafficking to provide protective services and encourage their participation in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; ensure all victims are provided shelter in appropriate facilities that provide privacy, non-stigmatization on the basis of trafficking, and specialized services; train immigration officials and law enforcement on proactive victim identification and the broader definition of human trafficking to include forced labor; continue to screen transit passengers for signs of trafficking; provide funding exclusively for anti-trafficking efforts, including the screening of transit passengers at the international airport.
The Government of Iceland sustained low anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Rather than investigating cases involving force, fraud, or coercion, law enforcement efforts were focused almost exclusively on long and in-depth prostitution investigations. Iceland prohibits both sex trafficking and forced labor under Article 227a of its criminal code, which prescribes penalties up to 12 years’ imprisonment. This penalty is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Law enforcement initiated 12 investigations in cases with potential sex trafficking elements during the reporting period, an increase from six investigations in 2012. Victims were hesitant to tell their stories, presumably out of fear the suspected traffickers would retaliate against their families. The government did not initiate any trafficking prosecutions or achieve any convictions in 2013. Observers praised the anti-trafficking efforts by the regional police which, despite having limited resources, have strategically deployed personnel to identify possible victims and enhanced efforts to screen for trafficking at the airport. The government is funding one position at the airport to focus on organized crime and trafficking, but there has not been an increase in funding for screening to match the increasing numbers of transit passengers. In 2014, the government allocated the equivalent of approximately $600,000 to an organized crime taskforce, not specifically dedicated to trafficking, to continue investigating possible links between organized crime groups and human trafficking and prostitution, compared with the equivalent of approximately $200,000 in 2013. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. Icelandic authorities provided law enforcement officers and immigration officials in-house and external training on victim identification. The police college curriculum included instruction on victim identification and investigating trafficking cases.
The Government of Iceland made some efforts to provide support and protection for victims of trafficking by identifying more victims, although the government and NGO partners closed its only trafficking shelter and accommodated victims in alternative housing. The government identified 17 potential sex trafficking victims during the reporting period, compared with six in 2012. Of the 17 victims identified, one was a male victim. The government identified no child victims of trafficking. Government-funded NGOs reported they provided services to an estimated seven female victims. All victims received assistance of food, shelter, legal advice, and health care. Foreign victims had the same access to assistance as domestic victims. During the reporting period, the Icelandic authorities informally adopted the EU-issued “Guidelines for the Identification of Victims of Trafficking” as their formal standards for identifying victims. The government continued to implement its 2010 system to refer victims from protective custody to institutions that provide short- or long-term care. During the reporting period, the government developed a pocket checklist for immigration and law enforcement officials to be used in identifying potential trafficking victims and ensuring they are informed of available services. NGOs stated this system worked effectively in practice. NGOs expressed concern that law enforcement officials use too narrow a definition and had a limited understanding of human trafficking, leading to missed opportunities to identify victims. In particular, police did not explore a person’s position of vulnerability and inappropriately weighed initial consent of victims when determining whether person was a trafficking victim. The government did not fully formalize procedures for social service workers, health officials, and labor inspectors to identify and refer victims to care.
In December 2013, the government closed a long-term shelter for sex trafficking victims and women exiting prostitution, which was operated as a two-year research project. Victims were provided with alternative housing. All victims received assistance from the country’s NGO operated domestic violence shelter, and other government programs and social service entities such as those dedicated to assisting asylum seekers. Victims could leave the shelter unchaperoned and at will. The government allocated the equivalent of approximately $479,500 in the 2014 state budget to the domestic violence shelter, compared with $345,700 in 2013. The government allocated the equivalent of approximately $610,300 to the NGO offering psychological and other services at the shelter, compared with the equivalent of approximately $536,000 in 2013. There was no specialized care available for male victims, although they were referred to NGOs providing food, shelter, legal advice, health care, and psychological services. In cases involving unaccompanied children, municipal and state child protection services are responsible for assistance. Victims were entitled to free medical care. The victims’ protection law mandates free legal services for victims to guide them through the legal process, inform them of their rights, and act as the victim’s attorney should they require legal representation in court. No victims pursued legal action, although one victim received legal assistance during questioning by law enforcement. Potential victims of trafficking without legal status could obtain a six-month residency permit for a reflection period—time in which to recover and decide whether to cooperate with law enforcement. An additional one-year renewable residency permit is available to victims who cooperate with law enforcement or who may face retribution or hardship in their home countries; victims with temporary residency are able to work legally in the country. Such permits are to be granted regardless of the outcome of a prosecution. The government did not issue any temporary residence permits to potential victims during the reporting period; some potential victims received residence permits on other grounds or applied for asylum in Iceland. Victims were reportedly punished for acts committed as a result of being trafficked.
The Government of Iceland displayed mixed efforts to prevent trafficking. The government approved its 2013-2016 national action plan and created and filled a dedicated position to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts among various agencies, but it did not educate the public, including potential victims, about human trafficking. The national action plan—approved in April 2013—established a coordination group of representatives from law enforcement, government agencies, and NGOs to provide a twice-yearly forum for discussion of anti-trafficking efforts and best practices. The coordination group met once during the reporting period. The government did not conduct any anti-trafficking awareness activities in 2013. A July 2013 risk assessment report conducted by national security unit on organized crime and terrorism publicly acknowledged that there were indications of possible trafficking activity in Iceland, especially in Metropolitan Reykjavik and the Sudurnes area. The government demonstrated efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by enforcing legislation banning the purchase of sex and the operation of strip clubs, but it did not demonstrate efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.