WE MUST DO BETTER
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
STOP THE TRAFFIK: ICELAND
OPEN LETTER TO ALÞINGI - 2/7/20
In light of the recent tragedy in Reykjavík where three lives were lost in a fire in a building being used illegally to accommodate workers, Stop The Traffik: Iceland would like to express our sincerest condolences to the loved ones of those lost and our grieving community. This would be a harrowing situation in any event, but the circumstances surrounding the fire and accommodation makes it even more tragic. Our thoughts are with everyone affected, and we resolve to continue to fight for justice for those who find themselves trafficked and exploited for profit by ruthless employers and landlords.
We also want to express our ongoing frustration for the total lack of sincere prioritization of human trafficking by the Icelandic government.
This tragedy, like the ones before it, and likely many more to come, was and is preventable. This building had previously been the subject of media attention and was reported to authorities numerous times. It was even apparently investigated, but after five years no sufficient action was taken which has now cost lives which can never be replaced.
Nearly a fifth of Iceland's labour market is dependent on workers of foreign origin, and the abundant research available demonstrating that these workers are disproportionately exploited is nothing new. Three years ago Stop The Traffik: Iceland organized to shift our focus from international to domestic trafficking in Iceland due to an obvious need. In that period we have aided in research, given numerous consultations and presentations on how trafficking is working in Iceland and what action is needed to combat it, and participated in the steering group under the Ministry of Justice. Yet we cannot identify a single government change since we began. We of course appreciate the many other individuals and organisations who have met with us and shared their similar frustrations and concerns on the matter and are proud to have worked alongside them, contributing necessary information and awareness, but on the day of the fire, it was painfully evident that this was not enough.
Unlike Iceland, countries typically have a National Plan for Human Trafficking issued by the government that divides up responsibilities and allocates funding for certain measures to combat trafficking. Iceland's last Plan expired in 2016, and even this previous version was criticized for not adequately serving its purpose. Currently we have a Human Trafficking government “Policy” that we were hopeful would develop into something that could function like an Action Plan, but again on the day of the fire, it was painfully evident that this was not enough.
As there is no identified leadership or National Action Plan in place, when worried neighbors and media expressed their concerns about this building, those concerns met no formalized process for how they should be handled. There are no clear, defined responsibilities for who should be doing what when a trafficking case is brought to the police, a union, a shelter, or whomever. Again, on the day of the fire, this ad-hoc basis proved not enough after five failed years. Furthermore, there was no uniformed training or set criteria to even identify these men as victims of human trafficking. Then when these surviving men lost everything, there was no men's shelter for them to go to. No funding was ever allocated to provide basic initiatives to have helped them, despite the following recommendations by the steering committee that have been expressed again and again:
A webpage about human trafficking in Iceland;
Educational training for professionals;
Outreach initiatives to victims
A government sponsored public and/or worker awareness campaign;
A helpline for potential victims or tips;
Research on anti-trafficking initiatives.
A hotline/helpline for tips regarding potential victims
There is an overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done, and it is inexcusable that this work falls on already busy people to take on extra responsibilities with no additional funding, due to the lack of structure a National Action Plan would provide. We love Iceland, so all of this is only expressed with the best interests of our community in mind, but it must be stated that the sheer lack of effort that has been put forth for combating this very real, life-threatening crime is utterly unacceptable. We have failed 73 workers that were listed as living in that house alone. We failed to give a fair process to the women in Vík, the woman in the Adam Hotel scandal, the 17-year old boy in the suspected forced burglary case, the women in the Shooters nightclub, and countless more. These are not our accusations, but some of the many published “investigations” that never turned into cases. We will never know how many “investigations” fell through because there was actually no crime, or how many fell through when there was a crime that we did not have the adequate capacity to address. We need a system where we can have some faith in knowing the difference, and currently the overwhelming testimonies of labour abuses demonstrate otherwise.
We will continue to fight trafficking in Iceland, working alongside others to raise awareness and do everything in our power to give a voice to victims. But we need to see real change at a governmental level, to see this move beyond words of shared concern to a concrete and workable National Action Plan.
To this day, Iceland has never had a single conviction of labour trafficking. We are failing to protect the people of Iceland, and these failings have had a large part to play in last week’s tragic loss of three lives. This is an open letter calling on the government to deliver an adequate, funded National Action Plan Against Human Trafficking.
This is NOT enough. We MUST do Better.
EDIT: Some changes have been published since we released our letter that are important to consider. The government awarded the Red Cross 5 million kr. to work on prevention, and we are excited to see how that initiative develops. We are also happy to report that Bjarkarhlið has recieved funding to begin to take on the role of a coordination center over the course of the next year. These developments are big steps towards progress, however much of the concerns laid out in our letter still remain. Iceland has international commitments to the United Nations and the Council of Europe to provide an adequate national plan against human trafficking, and we will continue to advocate for those commitments to be fulfilled.