There has been an increase in the number of suspected cases of trafficking reported to the police in Iceland in recent years. Most cases are defined as labor trafficking relating to the construction industry, cleaning companies, the tourism industry and other areas of work. There are also cases of individuals being exploited sexually.
A recent case which police have been investigating involves the smuggling of drugs to the country to support prostitution or labor trafficking.
In some cases, individuals are made to pay debt bondage to guarantee continued employment, according to Snorri Birgisson, detective with the police in Suðurnes, Southwest Iceland.
Snorri, who has investigated the issue in recent years, says in an interview with Fréttablaðið today that it is important to educate people about trafficking and open the public’s eyes that it exists here in Iceland as in other countries. He himself has attended courses organized by Frontex, the European Union Agency.
Margrét Steinarsdóttir, director of the Icelandic Human Rights Centre, says that there have been at least 120-130 cases of reported trafficking since 2004.
The first and only trafficking conviction in Iceland was handed down in 2010. Several other cases relating to individuals accused of trafficking have been heard by the courts in Iceland but the defendants were acquitted of trafficking charges. Organized crime syndicates are often behind trafficking.
It is often difficult to determine whether trafficking is involved in part because victims are often scared to speak about their circumstances, Snorri explains. “Deception and isolation are often a large part in this. Often people come here under false assumptions with a promise of a good job and accommodation. Then when they arrive in the country the reality is different.”
“Often, their passport is taken and they cannot speak with authorities without their boss [knowing]. They are told that it costs money to get a kennitala [social security number] and to speak with social services. They who don’t know any better and don’t know where to look for help,” Snorri says.
It is estimated that between 20 and 30 million people worldwide are enslaved.