Most Foreign Prisoners in Iceland Live Abroad Skip to content

Most Foreign Prisoners in Iceland Live Abroad

Of the 89 foreign citizens who were behind bars in Iceland at the end of last year, 35 had their legal domicile in Iceland while 54 lived abroad, some of whom may have come to Iceland explicitly to commit crimes.


Litla-Hraun. The maximum security prison in Iceland. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

The number of foreign citizens in Icelandic prisons has increased rapidly: in 2000 they numbered seven but 21 the following year, Morgunblaðið reports.

At the end of 2011, approximately 20 percent of prisoners in Iceland were foreign citizens and their ratio has never been higher.

Very few are transferred to their respective home countries to serve their sentences there: one in 2010 and three last year.

Páll E. Winkel, director of the Icelandic Prisons Authority, said prisoners are primarily transferred to the Nordic countries and Lithuania.

“But it is extremely difficult to deal with and it’s hard to transfer prisoners against their own will,” Páll stated.

Most of the convicts of foreign origin in Iceland last year were serving sentences for illicit enrichment crimes, forgery of documents or violation of immigration laws. Drug violations are also common in this group of prisoners.

Some only speak their native language which has in some cases proven problematic. Interpreters are called in but there have been incidences where interpreters who speak the language in question were not available in Iceland.

Prison authorities try to separate convicts of the same nationality to prevent the formation of gangs.

The number of foreign citizens in prisons has also been up for discussion in Norway lately. Five years ago their ratio was 17 percent, now it has grown to approximately 33 percent.


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