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.