2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Iceland


The Government of Iceland does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Iceland remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating more trafficking cases; identifying more potential trafficking victims; adopting and implementing a national referral mechanism (NRM); and establishing a centralized database for collecting victim information and case history. Furthermore, the government opened a new women’s shelter and a counseling and support center for victims and signed two agreements with dedicated funding to support additional accommodations for potential victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities continued to charge suspected traffickers under non-trafficking statutes, such as smuggling, and the government did not prosecute or convict any suspected traffickers for the tenth consecutive year.


Significantly increase efforts to prosecute and convict suspected traffickers. • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking cases under the trafficking statute. • Proactively identify trafficking victims and refer them to care facilities for assistance. • Screen all vulnerable individuals for trafficking indicators and stay deportation of potential victims prior to identification and care. • Enhance training for investigating cases and collecting evidence against suspected traffickers. • 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 unaccompanied 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 2020, authorities initiated 22 investigations (eight sex trafficking, 10 labor trafficking, and four uncategorized), a significant increase from five in 2019 and 15 in 2018. As in the past decade, the government did not prosecute or convict any trafficking cases, but police referred one labor trafficking case to prosecutors, compared with two (one sex trafficking and one labor trafficking) in 2019. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses. Icelandic authorities maintained cooperation with EUROPOL and INTERPOL on international investigations.

Experts noted that limitations of a small government administration and a lack of clear policy, structure across government institutions, and resources restricted progress and coordination. Government officials acknowledged flaws in the criminal justice system. For instance, lengthy investigations, inadequate evidence collection, and overly stringent requirements, such as a high bar for prosecutions, led prosecutors to charge suspects under non-trafficking statutes, such as smuggling, that carried more lenient penalties and were easier to convict. Consequently, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) developed amendments to the law to facilitate prosecutions by lowering the threshold for evidence required; the amendments were pending approval by Parliament at the end of the reporting period. A government official noted that maintaining statistics on trafficking cases also remained a challenge as trafficking was often one component of larger prosecutions linked to organized crime. As a result, the MOJ allocated 350 million Icelandic krona (ISK) ($2.75 million) to law enforcement to combat organized crime; authorities reported 15 organized crime groups in Iceland involved in a range of illegal activities, including trafficking. Officials and observers acknowledged the need to develop the capacity and expertise to combat organized crime and identified training as an area for improvement. Subsequently, the government continued to allocate 17.5 million ISK ($137,680) to the commissioner’s office to conduct training on organized crime and preventing trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism. Experts underscored the need for consistently educating law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on all aspects of trafficking, noting a shortfall of trafficking expertise in law enforcement. In response, the National Police Commissioner published comprehensive guidelines for police officers on investigating trafficking cases. Additionally, the Reykjavik Metropolitan Police maintained a three-person unit for combating trafficking and commercial sex with a budget of 52.5 million ISK ($413,030) supported by a cyber-crime unit that monitored the internet for trafficking activity. Moreover, the North Iceland Police maintained a two-person team focused on commercial sex and labor violations and a 33 million ISK ($259,620) budget, and the Southwestern District Police, which covered the border police at Keflavik International Airport, operated a unit specializing in major crime investigations, including trafficking. Furthermore, the police college curriculum included a legal course and instruction on investigating trafficking cases.


The government increased victim protection efforts. The government identified nine potential trafficking victims (eight sex trafficking, one sex and labor trafficking), compared with seven in 2019; all of the identified victims were adult foreign nationals. The police established identification procedures and maintained standardized referral procedures requiring them to contact welfare services in the municipality and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOW) to coordinate victim care and placement. During the reporting period, the government adopted a NRM and implemented it at the Bjarkarhlíð Family Justice Center. The center assumed the responsibility in July and continued to serve as a “one stop shop” for victims of violence, including trafficking. The government’s action plan on preventing violence and its consequences, which included action items to combat trafficking and provide services for victims, allocated 6 million ISK ($47,200) to open and operate the center in northern Iceland. Additionally, the government allocated 3 million ISK ($23,600) for the NRM for one year. 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 new centralized database developed to reflect accurately the scope of trafficking in Iceland. Furthermore, under the auspices of the NRM, officials developed a standardized questionnaire for victims to better quantify and identify vulnerable groups. A team of experts worked to refer victims to relevant NGOs or institutions providing short- or long-term care. The action plan on preventing violence and its consequences called for the creation of standardized guidance for all anti-trafficking service providers, and allocated 15 million ISK ($118,010) annually until 2023 to ensure the implementation of the guidance as well as all action items no later than 2022. During the reporting period, the government partnered with an NGO to open a new women’s shelter in Akureyri, the largest town in northern Iceland, as a two-year pilot project. The government also signed an agreement providing 100 million ISK ($786,720) to support building the shelter with additional housing units in Reykjavik. Separately, as part of its pandemic-stimulus package in November 2020, the government signed an agreement with the same NGO for a new emergency shelter in Reykjavik using donated funds—100 million ISK ($786,720)—from last reporting period. Additionally, the government provided 1.5 million ISK ($11,800) to create a new counseling and support center for victims of gender-based violence, including trafficking, in southern Iceland. The center opened at the end of the reporting period.

Overall, the government maintained a well-managed social welfare system with robust protections. Victims had access to free legal, medical, psychological, and financial assistance, whether or not they stayed at a shelter or cooperated with authorities. In 2020, three potential victims received assistance from social services, compared with one potential victim in 2019. 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 Directorate of Immigration 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. There were no accommodations available for male victims, though they could access general municipal social services and receive referrals to NGOs providing food, shelter, legal advice, and health care. Municipal social service agencies provided services and financial assistance to trafficking victims, and the MOW reimbursed the municipalities for all associated expenses. Foreign trafficking victims could 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. In response to the pandemic, the government amended the regulation for foreign nationals who could not return to their country of origin or legal residency, granting them the right to remain lawfully in Iceland until November 10, 2020; these regulations also applied to trafficking victims. Despite reports that the government screened all deportees for trafficking indicators, observers expressed concern over removals of West African asylum-seekers who reported being trafficking victims prior to arriving in Iceland.


The government increased prevention efforts. The government continued to implement its national action plan (NAP), which included proposed revisions to legislation, regulations, and administrative directives and action items focused on bolstering public awareness, education, and institutional knowledge. Three task forces, which included a range of government and non-government stakeholders, each assigned with developing specific policy proposals to implement the NAP, comprised the MOJ-led national steering group, which coordinated interagency anti-trafficking efforts. One of the task forces noted the need to raise awareness as well as bolster education for authorities and the general public. Accordingly, the police collaborated with airport authorities to educate employees on trafficking and created a video detailing the different types of trafficking, victim identification, and notification procedures. The police, in partnership with an international airline, conducted training and instituted procedures for front-line personnel to respond to trafficking situations. Furthermore, the government allocated 5 million ISK ($39,340) for awareness and education campaigns, informing foreign workers about their rights in the Icelandic labor market. Separately, an Icelandic research institute received 4 million ISK ($31,470) from the government to produce educational videos about trafficking to help workplace inspectors detect potential incidents. The government granted approximately 2 million ISK ($15,730) to the Icelandic Confederation of Labor for educational materials on organized labor trafficking. The Directorate of Labor (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. In cooperation with EU countries, the DOL participated in a project aimed at reducing labor market violations and labor trafficking, by combating black-market employment and social dumping, whereby workers are given pay or living or working conditions that are sub-standard compared to the law. In 2020, the government included supply chain responsibility provisions in the Public Procurement Act stipulating the liability of principal contractors to ensure all sub-contractors get 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. Due to the economic consequences of the pandemic and companies reducing the number of hours their employees worked, the government passed a temporary provision entitling payment of unemployment benefits—up to 75 percent of salaries; most applications came from employees in the tourism industry, which comprised mainly migrant workers who remained vulnerable to labor trafficking. Government efforts to combat child sexual abuse, including trafficking, extended abroad with the allocation of 36 million ISK ($283,220) to a project in Togo. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by investigating 48 individuals suspected of purchasing commercial sex.


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 but note a rise in organized crime. 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 2019 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.