There are likely more cases of human trafficking than we know, a detective says, and fighting it comes with numerous difficulties.
MBL recently spoke with Snorri Birgisson, a detective for the capital area police who specialises in cases of human trafficking. Human trafficking has featured prominently in Icelandic headlines lately, as a case of slave labour in South Iceland has recently emerged.
Snorri told reporters that police have responded to ten cases over the past two years where there were strong indications that human trafficking was at work. Top priority, as far as the police is concerned, is to get survivors into a safe place. While this can be elementary, from there, things can get complicated.
First, it can be difficult to convince survivors that they can trust authorities, Snorri said. They may have far more negative experiences with the police in their home countries, making them reticent with Icelandic police, but fear of their captors also plays a large role in this. Another factor that comes into play is that while by Icelandic law, survivors of human trafficking are entitled to receive an immediate six-month residence permit in Iceland, whether or not this permit is issued is up to the Directorate of Immigration to decide, on a case-by-case basis. Third, many survivors choose to not pursue criminal proceedings against their former captors, opting instead to leave the country.
Snorri also emphasised that while the stereotype of a victim of human trafficking – someone forced into prostitution – does reflect a large part of the reality, it is not the whole picture. Many survivors of slave labour can also be found in other industries, such as in garment work (as was the case in South Iceland) or in some “au pair” jobs.
Overall, Snorri believes that cases of human trafficking in Iceland are on the rise. However, a clearer set of guidelines is needed for police and other authorities, in terms of how to get involved and work better with survivors. He also believes that there are many more cases of human trafficking in Iceland than have been reported to authorities thus far.