Record Number of Travellers Denied Entry at Keflavík Airport

Keflavík Airport

Keflavík Airport has registered a record 258 denials of entry this year, mostly in association with suspected criminal activity. The Suðurnes police have also been active in investigating smuggling and money laundering cases and have made significant seizures.

258 travellers denied entry in 2023

Keflavík Airport has seen a record number of passengers denied entry, with 258 denial cases recorded so far this year. Most denials are linked to individuals’ connections to criminal activities, Mbl.is reports.

Last year, the Suðurnes police investigated 69 cases related to drug smuggling, money laundering, and illegal export of cash. This year, 58 such cases have been reported. In many of these cases, as reported by Mbl.is, suspects were arrested at Keflavík Airport either upon arrival or due to suspicions of carrying illicit funds when departing.

Significant seizures at the border

Authorities have seized 65 kg of cocaine, 14,000 tablets of oxycontin, 1,800 tablets of contalgin, 100 kg of cannabis, amphetamine base, and other banned substances. Additionally, ISK 60 million [$432,000/€410,000] in cash has been confiscated.

In 2022, 80 individuals were held in custody by the Suðurnes police for a total of 2,903 days, averaging 8 individuals daily. This year has seen 96 individuals detained for 2,617 days, with an average of about 10 individuals being held in custody every day.

Stress the importance of vigorous border operations

A press release from the police, and reported on by Mbl.is, underscores the importance of strong police and customs operations at Keflavík Airport. This includes well-trained staff, essential equipment, and appropriate working conditions. The collaboration between European countries on police cooperation and border control, based on the Schengen Agreement, is particularly extensive and demanding for Iceland, given its distance from mainland Europe.

Insecticide – With a Buzz

nicotine pouches in iceland

According to data from the Directorate of Health, 34.2% of Icelanders between the ages of 18 and 69 smoked cigarettes on a daily basis in 1989. In 2022, 23 years later, that percentage had shrunk to an impressive 6.3%. This decline is not, however, so straightforward as it may appear, for the introduction of new […]

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In Focus: Opioid Crisis

opioid crisis iceland

In April of this year, National Broadcaster RÚV reported that social media had “been abuzz with rumours” concerning the inordinate number of drug-related deaths in 2023 in Iceland. Some of those rumours claimed that 15 people had died from addiction-related problems over the preceding two weeks; others that there had been 35 addiction-related deaths since […]

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Icelandic Man Arrested in Brazil in Large Drug Bust

Metropolitan Police

Vísir reports that a man has been arrested in Brazil by the Brazilian authorities in a joint operation with the Icelandic police. The man in question is believed to be Sverrir Þór Gunnarsson, also known as Sveddi Tönn, who has a long history of drug-related offences in Iceland, Spain, and Brazil.

The operation was carried out due to concerns about the flow of drugs from Brazil to Europe and Iceland, which is believed to be linked to a group associated with Sverrir. The Icelandic police have been cooperating with the Brazilian authorities for some time in connection with this case.

Sverrir Þór Gunnarsson was born in 1972 and has a criminal record that started when he was sixteen. He was first convicted of minor drug and traffic offences and was given the nickname Sveddi Tönn because of his appearance, supposedly resembling a tooth. In 2000, Sverrir was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his involvement in a large-scale drug trafficking case known as “The Big Drug Case.” Thirteen people were convicted, and Sverrir received the second heaviest sentence.

In November 2012, Sverrir was sentenced to 22 years in prison in Brazil for organizing the smuggling of around fifty thousand ecstasy tablets. He was released from prison in Brazil but was put under house arrest. Later, he fled Brazil and was on the run until his recent arrest.

The Brazilian police have announced that the operation was part of a large-scale crackdown on organized crime groups involved in money laundering and drug trafficking. Around 250 police officers were involved in the operation, which targeted 49 locations, resulting in 33 arrests.

The police are reported to have seized 65 kg of cocaine and 225 kg of cannabis in the operation.

Risk of Overdose Rises Following Closure of Iceland’s Only Safe Injection Site

Iceland’s only safe injection site, a temporary project operated by the Icelandic Red Cross, shuttered on March 6. A Red Cross employee told RÚV such sites decrease the risk of overdose among intravenous drug users in addition to saving funding within the healthcare and social service system. Over 100 individuals used the safe injection site within the last year, many of them unhoused, during over 1,200 visits.

Ylja, as the safe injection site was called, opened in May of last year and was a temporary pilot project operated by the Icelandic Red Cross. Like safe injection sites abroad, Ylja offered a safe environment for those 18 years of age and older to inject intravenous drugs under the supervision of trained nurses, who ensured sanitation, safety, and infection prevention practices were followed. Safe injection sites are a harm reduction service that can prevent overdose and death among users of intravenous drugs. They can also connect clients to other essential services they may require.

Assists a marginalised group and saves public funds

“We need housing and the funding to pay for it, in order to operate a safe injection site. There is a lack of political will to approve it,” stated Marín Þórsdóttir, the department head of the Icelandic Red Cross’ capital area department. In 2015 and 2022, the Icelandic parliament shelved bills to decriminalise drug possession for personal use. Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson promised to submit a new, revised bill last autumn but has yet to do so.

Marín adds that with Ylja’s closure, the Red Cross loses staff that is specialised in harm reduction, primarily nurses. While operating a safe injection site requires considerable funding, Marín says it ultimately saves public funds. “We are tending to a very marginalised group that receives little service, experiences perpetual discrimination in society, and it’s just savings, both within our healthcare and social services system by having a safe injection site and assisting people with harm reduction resources.”

Read more: In Harm’s Way

Economic and social factors appear to impact drug use in Iceland, according to the research of Dr. Arndís Sue-Ching Löve, an assistant professor at the University of Iceland. Her studies show that cocaine use decreased in Iceland during the COVID-19 pandemic, but increased again last year to around pre-pandemic levels. The increase may be partially explained by increased prosperity: a similar pattern was seen before the banking collapse in Iceland.

Too Many Unhoused People Must Rely on Reykjavík’s Parking Garages for Shelter

homelessness in reykjavík

Harm reduction expert Svala Jóhannesdóttir stated recently in an interview with RÚV that too many unhoused people in the Reykjavík area are forced to rely on parking garages for shelter.

The situation, according to Svala, shows a lack of resources for the homeless in Reykjavík.

Read more: Emergency Shelter Not Able to Cope

According to recent statements by experts at the Healthcare Centre for the Capital Area, parking garages have become injection sites for many of Reykjavík’s unhoused people. One parking garage in particular, by Vesturgata, has been singled out as particularly problematic because it is near a children’s daycare and also housing for the elderly.

A guard was recently hired in the parking garage following an incident where a health centre employee was assaulted in the parking garage.

Although many unhoused people have access to some form of shelter, many have no place to go during the day. Unhoused men, in fact, are forced to leave their shelters during the day, a requirement that has led to protests as winter approaches.

Read more: More Housing Needed for Unhoused People with Addictions

“This is a natural manifestation of the lack of options which is the rule for so many unhoused people in the capital area,” stated Svala to RÚV.

Svala has worked advocating for unhoused people with addiction problems for some 15 years and is one of the founders of Matthildur, an association for harm reduction in Iceland.

She also stated: “There has been a large increase in the number of people who are looking for space in the city’s emergency shelters. The emergency shelters close at 10AM and then open at 5PM. For these seven hours, people have no place to go.  We’ve found that for these seven hours, people are simply not in a good place.”

In order to better support people with addiction problems, Svala has called for resources that are available during the day as well.

The number of unhoused people has risen significantly in the last years in the capital area, with increased housing prices, drug problems, and other factors driving the trend. The capital region is also the only municipality in Iceland that provides services to the unhoused, meaning an increased burden for social services in Reykjavík.

 

In Harm’s Way

Gunni Marís On Thursday, November 25, 2021, I left a COVID testing clinic near the Kringlan shopping centre in Reykjavík. Stepping into my car, the phone rang and an unknown number appeared on the screen. I listened as the voice of an old acquaintance, meek but quietly upbeat, worked its way through the speaker. We […]

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Two Teenagers Hospitalised After Eating Morphine-Laced Gummy Bears

Two teenage girls, aged 13 and 14, were taken unconscious to the hospital this weekend after consuming gummy bears that had been laced with cannabis and morphine, reports a post on the Police in Suðurnes, South Iceland’s Facebook page. Both young women have now been discharged from the hospital and are recovering well.

Police determined that both girls were at the same place on the same evening and both were offered gummy bears by an older teenager who had himself bought the laced candy from an adult man. Neither of the young women knew what was in the candy when they ingested it.

“What we’re obviously talking about here is curiosity among young people,” read the Police post. “The parents of these kids asked us over and over where they got this stuff. Getting access to drugs is extremely easy and for anyone who has been shown how to do it, it only takes a few minutes to scrounge some up.”

The post continues to say that police interrogated the young man regarding the incident, who “was alarmed when he…realised the seriousness of the matter.” The parents of both young women are also working with the Child Protection Agency to address the situation and its implications with them.

“We want to encourage parents to discuss this with their children and educate them about the dangers that are out there,” continues the post, noting that with quick googling, almost anyone can easily make laced gummies in any shape they want. “Worse, however, is that it is possible to put whatever you want in it…You can, for instance, put all kinds of strong medications in it like Contalgin or Oxycontin and you don’t have to guess what the end result will be if a 13-year-old child ingests such a gummy.”

“Please discuss this with your children,” the post concludes, “and have the conversation.”

Alþingi Legalizes Safe Injection Sites

Alþingi Icelandic parliament

Alþingi has passed a bill which will make it legal for municipalities around the country to open safe injection sites (SIS) for intravenous drug users, Vísir reports. Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir, chair of the City of Reykjavík’s Welfare Committee, has praised the bill as a step in the right direction and believes that in Reykjavík, such a facility would do the greatest good if opened downtown. According to the SIS bill, around 700 people use intravenous drugs in Iceland each year. It’s estimated that somewhere between 25 and 40 people would use the Reykjavík SIS initially.

Safe injection sites (also referred to as overdose prevention centres, supervised injection facilities, or drug consumption rooms) are facilities where individuals over the age of 18 can use intravenous drugs in a safe environment, under the supervision of healthcare professionals and without fear of arrest or legal repercussions. They are intended to provide sterile injection supplies, provide healthcare guidance, referrals to rehabilitation and social services, and monitor for overdose, thus decreasing overdose-related expense and pressures on the healthcare system, increasing the likeliness of users seeking treatment and social aid, and reducing behaviours that put users at risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C, such as needle sharing.

“This is a really good step,” remarked Heiða Björg on the passing of the new bill, “but we would have liked to maybe see the report more clearly indicate that there would be low-cost healthcare services there [at the SIS]—that it would be a health clinic.”

Heiða Björg also believes that the government should bear the financial burden of healthcare services in safe injection facilities, not the local municipalities that open them. “It really isn’t fair to completely pass the ball to the municipalities,” she continued. “There needs to be a guarantee of funding for such operations.” The Minister of Health has yet to fully outline what services SISs will offer.

Heiða Björg says the city is prepared to help identify a suitable location for an SIS in Reykjavík but thinks that it’s clear that such a facility needs to be centrally located. “I think most professionals agree that it would be preferable for it to be somewhere central, where people are coming and going. We’ve really been looking at downtown.”

Wherever it’s located, the Reykjavík SIS will likely not open until next year. “If I tell it exactly like it is, then I think that this will take at least a year—based on my experience, for instance, finding [housing] for people who have been, or currently are, homeless. I think we have to just give this time but we are ready to get this done quickly and correctly if the funds for the project are guaranteed,” she concluded.

Police on Alert for Rise in Quarantine-Related Crimes

Icelandic police

Police are closely monitoring cybercrime, crimes committed in the home, and domestic drug production while Icelanders are (self-)quarantining and the gathering ban is in effect, Vísir reports. The ban, which went into effect this week, prohibits gatherings of 20 or more people and is intended to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. Fréttablaðið reports that there’s already a shortage of cocaine in the country, as passenger flights have ground to a halt. According to Capital-area police chief Karl Steinar Valsson, people staying home more may also lead to a spike in these crimes.

A COVID-related slow in imports and a reduction of travellers entering the country has considerably reduced the availability of illegal substances like cocaine in Iceland. Fréttablaðið’s sources report that most of the country’s supplies have run dry and what little is left is being kept under wraps to drive up prices. Amphetamine is still available and domestic production of marijuana can respond to demand. Karl Steinar noted that the sale of narcotics is where organized crime makes the majority of its money. As such, when it becomes challenging to import drugs, these organizations are quick to start producing them domestically. “If there’s a temporary shortage of cocaine,” he explained, “then amphetamines are produced instead. That’s, of course, what we’ve seen before.”

As the gathering ban has put a temporary stop to weekend partying at bars and clubs in Iceland, Karl Steinar says that changes in users’ consumption patterns must be taken into account as well. However, he says that it is currently unclear how these changes will manifest. Fréttablaðið’s sources add that “businessmen who’ve been coming two, three times a week have stopped buying and are spending time with their families instead.”

Karl Steinar told reporters that it’s too early to say if there’s been a significant increase in criminal activity in the wake of the ban but says, for instance, that burglaries of businesses can be expected to increase while most employees work from home. An increase in domestic abuse is also a concern. “There are a lot of people working from home, and so naturally, there could be a rise in crimes committed in the home. We’ve haven’t yet seen this happen, but we’re monitoring very closely, both domestic violence and child abuse and crimes of that nature.”

Cybercrime is also likely to increase, he continued. “People are shopping online a lot and doing all sorts of things online from home that weren’t being done to the same extent before. There are thousands of websites popping up that offer you all kinds of protective devices to prevent you from being infected [with COVID-19]. They are offering products that have clearly not been certified or anything like that.”