Yet another revelation from the recent Wikileaks infodump of diplomatic cables: former Minister of Justice Björn Bjarnason was considered to not take cases of human trafficking and spousal abuse towards foreign women seriously.
Vísir reports that one of the cables from 2006 shows the US embassy analysis of the human trafficking problem in Iceland in greater detail. It claims that some foreign women were lured into moving to Iceland, only to face a life that was tantamount to slavery.
Documents show the opinion of the Intercultural House at the time that in particular, many eastern European women in their thirties were enticed by Icelandic men in their sixties to move to Iceland and marry, and that these women were considered “status symbols”. Many of these women, in turn, worked long hours only to have their incomes kept by their husbands. Some men had even gone so far as to sell their wives to other men as prostitutes.
Staff at the US embassy at the time believed there was little political will to change the situation, specifically mentioning then Minister of Justice Björn Bjarnason. He was said to have made little of the plight of these women, and to not have seen much danger for worker exploitation in existing Icelandic labour laws.
The Grapevine actually noted this lack of political will on Björn’s behalf in 2005. In an interview the Grapevine took with Björn at the time, he defended the notorious “age 24 law” – which has since been repealed – that forbade foreigners 24 years or younger from marrying, even though Icelanders can get married at 18. At the time, Björn asserted that this law was in place in order to prevent “forced marriages,” and yet the embassy documents show that Björn appeared to ignore any evidence of human trafficking or exploitation of foreign spouses that was brought before him.