Forced Labor of Immigrant Spouses in Iceland Skip to content

Forced Labor of Immigrant Spouses in Iceland

There are cases in Iceland of marriage of convenience, where the immigrant spouse, most often a woman, is a victim of human trafficking, according to Fréttablaðið. In some of these marriages, that spouse is taken advantage of. The victims are forced to work more than one job, their income is taken away from them, and the hard work continues in the home. “In my mind, this is human trafficking,” says Margrét Steinarsdóttir, a lawyer at the Icelandic Human Rights Centre.

She has been approached by people in such circumstances. Many of these cases never make it to the police, because the victims don’t dare press charges, and the cases are hard to prove.

Snorri Birgisson, who works for the Reykjavík metropolitan police, says the police have investigated such cases, but never been able to prove the existence of marriages of convenience. Oftentimes, he says, there is suspicion that the purpose of the marriage is to obtain a residence permit. In some instances, the police suspect that the victim is brought to the country on false grounds. All benefits are applied for in the victim’s name.

Margrét states she has been approached by women who were forced to provide sexual services at any hour and to anyone, as demanded by their spouse. “That is human trafficking,” she reiterates and stresses that neither the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, nor the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings mention that financial gain must be present for human trafficking to exist.

A few years ago, Margrét wrote a brochure for the Centre for Gender Equality, in an effort to reach out to victims of violent relationships. There, she points out that it is punishable by Icelandic law to force someone into marriage.

The 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. Department of State reveals that trafficking exists in Iceland:

“Iceland is a destination and transit country for women subjected to sex trafficking and men and women subjected to labor trafficking…Women are subjected to domestic servitude and sex trafficking through forced marriage.”

Margrét emphasizes that she is not generalizing about these types of marriages, but that the few who take advantage of women’s distress by subjecting them to violence and forced labor—those people, she says, must be brought to justice.

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