For years, Iceland has been under international and domestic pressure to take government action to address what experts have persistently pointed to as abundant symptoms of human trafficking taking place. Rescuing victims may soon be more practical, as the Ministry of Justice will head meetings this month to organise national effort against the control and exploitation of individuals.
The United States’ Trafficking in Persons Report revealed in June that domestic and foreign victims are being exploited in Iceland, specifically via labour trafficking, sex trafficking, and forced begging. This data was derived from local sources who continually see cases matching human trafficking criteria, but are unable to make any headway towards convictions due to Iceland’s current system to combat trafficking, or lack thereof.
Local human trafficking is rarely discussed publicly in Iceland, largely due to misconceptions of what the crime looks like in our communities. Public awareness is one of many components that should be organised under a National Action Plan To Combat Trafficking in Persons. This plan would set strategic prioritisations to combat trafficking nationally, and include who will take care of what, how, and with what funding. There is currently no such plan in place, after the last (generally criticised) plan expired in 2016.
“The worst thing about trafficking in Iceland—the reason there is no real progress—is because no one has been made responsible for taking specific measures in the fight against trafficking.” explains Drífa Snædal. As the president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, and former director of the Women’s Shelter, she has encountered numerous cases of trafficking throughout her career. It is this regular exposure to the problem that has made Drífa a passionate advocate for an action plan to assign responsibilities to address the problem.
A Failing Structure
The current lack of an action plan to combat trafficking is not only a violation of international law; it is also costing current victims their freedom.
“Trafficking cases we have identified are being lost,” says Drífa. “We have failed to take care of these victims properly.” Even when someone is identified as a victim of trafficking, Drífa explains, a variety of different parties must organise to allocate food, lodging, legal aid, and medical and psychological services. Collaborating across organisations and ministries while simultaneously working to build a solid legal case has proven unsuccessful.
“Good work is being done,” Drifa assures, “but it has been taking far too long to actually help victims.” Victims often leave Iceland before any real justice can be achieved, and risk re-victimization when lacking proper rehabilitative intervention.
“Trafficking is like drugs,” Drífa explains, “You get the statistics out of the issue based on the resources you put in.” Currently, those statistics leave us with only one successful human trafficking conviction, which was made in 2010.
Progression Towards Real Change
Drífa is optimistic about the committee’s inaugural meeting this month to develop an implementable action plan. “I feel there has been a change in the political attitude,” she said, noting that the committee was a commitment from a “Government’s Focus of Action” policy released in March.
Left-Green Party MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson also said he is optimistic, but cautiously so. “Not having an Action Plan for so long gave the impression that combating trafficking wasn’t a very high priority [for authorities],” he explains. “Hopefully the new plan will be followed by concrete action and maybe—most importantly—the allocation of necessary resources.”
Drífa’s first recommendation, as a committee member, will be to assign a national coordinator to optimize victim assistance and provide much needed oversight. The results of the committee meetings will determine the national capabilities to combat trafficking and ultimately victims’ chances for escape.
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