Iceland

Not Available

Immigration detainees

2021

Not Available

Detained children

2017

300,000

Population

2020

Overview

(18 January 2022) There is little available current information concerning Iceland's migration-related detention practices. Historically, the country has used prisons for the purposes of detaining non-citizens for removal purposes, a practice that the European Committee for the Prevention fo Torture has repeatedly criticised. According to Eurostat, Iceland apprehended 110 people in 2019 found to be staying without authorisation the country, though it did not remove anyone that year.

Types of facilities used for migration-related detention
Administrative Ad Hoc Criminal Unknown

25 August 2020

Online Page of the Icelandic Parliamentary Ombudsman, (Parliamentary Ombudsman, Website of the Ombudsman, accessed on 24 August 2020, https://www.umbodsmadur.is/)
Online Page of the Icelandic Parliamentary Ombudsman, (Parliamentary Ombudsman, Website of the Ombudsman, accessed on 24 August 2020, https://www.umbodsmadur.is/)

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Icelandic Parliamentary Ombudsman (Althingi Ombudsman) reported there are no dedicated immigration detention centres in the country (previously, reports from the Council of Europe going back as far as 1998 have indicated that prisons or police stations are used for this purpose). Thus, the Ombudsman did not provide answers to questions relating to the release of immigration detainees and “alternatives to detention” programmes in place in the country.

There are currently four reception centres in Iceland. Responding to questions about previous reports from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture about plans for building new dedicated reception facilities, the Ombudsman said that to their knowledge, the facility proposed in 2012 CPT correspondence had not been built. The source said that at one reception centre, there is a “closed” hallway where residents in the hallway may go out as they please, but not everyone can go in. The reception centres are “open” in the sense that no-one is forced to stay there. During the day, people can enter and exit the centres, but they are closed during the night. Applicants for international protection stay in a reception centre when they first arrive in Iceland. According to the source, “single applicants are then often provided with a room in one of the centres with access to kitchen and bathroom facilities” whereas “families can be provided with an apartment to stay in.”

According to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, arriving asylum seekers may be tested for Covid-19 in accordance with the procedure applicable at any given time. The procedures vary depending on the evolution of the spread of Covid-19. The Ombudsman said that if an applicant for international protection is unable to finance their stay while the application is being processed, services and assistance are provided by the Directorate of Immigration, Social Services of Reykjavik or the municipalities of Reykjanesbaer and Hafnarfjarðarbær. The services granted are based on service agreements between the municipalities and the Directorate of Immigration. According to the agreements, the applicant is guaranteed housing, meals, and other basic services such as medical service, schooling, kindergarten, leisure activities, and travel within the municipality. The Directorate of Immigration decides which municipality will provide services to the applicant, taking into account their needs and the capability of the municipality to provide the service.

As of 19 August 2020, all arriving people have the option of a 14-day quarantine or a double testing procedure along with a quarantine for 5-6 days. The double border-screening procedure requires all passengers arriving in Iceland to undergo two tests: one upon arrival and another 5-6 days later to minimise the risks of spreading the virus. Those who test negative in the second test are no longer required to take special precautions. However, those who test positive must self-isolate. Alternatively, arriving passengers can choose to stay in a 14-day quarantine without undergoing any tests. Children born in 2005 and later are exempt from the double border-screening procedure.

Asylum seekers are tested for free at the start of their stay in Iceland in a special quarantine house operated by the government. They stay there while the tests are being carried out and until it is confirmed that they are not infected. They are then placed in other housing units by the Directorate of Immigration.

As regards removals, the Ombudsman stated that no specific decision had been taken by the government. However, due to the Covid-19 crisis and the closing of airports and borders, removals could not take place as normal. Most removals in Iceland are based on the Dublin Regulation or are cases concerning persons that have already received international protection in other countries. So, when possible, applicants have been removed to countries that had their borders open: mostly Nordic countries and a few other countries.

The Ombudsman also reported that Iceland had implemented travel restrictions imposed for the Schengen Area and the European Union. As of 20 March 2020, foreign nationals, except EU/EEA, EFTA or UK nationals were not allowed to enter Iceland unless they could demonstrate that their travel was essential. The travel restrictions did not apply to essential travel, including, inter alia, health and care workers on professional travel, transportation crews (airlines and freighters), individuals requiring international protection, individuals traveling because of acute family incidents, diplomats, international organisation staff, members of armed forces, and individuals requiring international protection.

Furthermore, the Regulation on Foreigners was amended and a temporary provision was inserted. The provision stipulates that foreign nationals in Iceland who are unable to return to their home countries due to travel restrictions, quarantine, or isolation are allowed to stay in Iceland without a residence permit or visa. This has been amended and currently applies until 10 September 2020. The provision does not apply to non-citizens who were staying irregularly in the country before 20 March 2020 and does not prevent removal on that or other basis in accordance with the provisions of the Foreign Nationals Act. The Ombudsman said that the fact there are no direct flights to an applicants’ home country, high travel costs or other inconveniences of travelling now are not grounds for being allowed to stay in Iceland without a residence permit or visa.

Moreover, the Directorate of Immigration informed the Ministry of Justice in March that it would reconsider whether to process asylum cases of people in Dublin procedures or who have been granted protection in another country if it is impossible to remove people and time limits are pressing. The assessment is to be based on whether, on the one hand, the case procedure is expected to exceed those time limits due to travel restrictions and, on the other hand, whether the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the infrastructure of the receiving state is such that the individual assessment of the conditions in the state would have to be revised once travel restrictions are lifted.


Last updated: September 2012

EXCERPT FROM :

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report to the Icelandic Government on the visit to Iceland carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 18 to 24 September 2012,” Council of Europe, 5 September 2013, pp. 13-15. Available at: https://rm.coe.int/1680696c40

 

B. Persons detained under aliens legislation 

26. The legal framework governing the detention of foreign nationals who are illegally present in Iceland was described in the report on the 2004 visit. Pursuant to Section 29 of the Act on Foreigners, foreign nationals whose identity needs to be clarified may be placed in police custody for up to 24 hours, and subsequently detained for up to 12 weeks by judicial decision. Under Section 33 of the same Act, a foreign national may be detained by judicial decision for a maximum of 6 weeks, if this is necessary in order to enforce a removal order. 

27. At the outset of the visit, the delegation was informed that persons detained by judicial decision pursuant to Sections 29 or 33 of the Act on Foreigners were placed in prisons, where they were accommodated together with other inmates. The delegation met certain foreign nationals falling within this category when visiting Skólavörðustígur, Kópavogur and Litla-Hraun Prisons. 

In the reports on its previous visits to Iceland, the CPT stressed that, if it is deemed necessary to deprive persons of their liberty under aliens legislation, it would be far preferable to accommodate them in a centre specifically designed for that purpose, offering material conditions and a regime appropriate to their legal status and staffed by suitably qualified personnel. In this context, the delegation was informed by the Director of Immigration that she had already requested that such a centre be set up. The plan was to build a facility with an open reception centre and a closed wing with a capacity of approximately 80 places. The Minister of the Interior was in favour of the idea and it was his intention to present relevant legal amendments to the Act on Foreigners in the near future. The CPT would like to receive updated information on this subject, including as regards the design, capacity, regime and staff complement of the new centre. 

28. As regards safeguards against ill-treatment offered to foreign nationals detained under aliens legislation, the situation continued to be generally satisfactory and no complaints were received on these issues from the foreign nationals interviewed by the delegation in the prisons visited. 

Further, the delegation was pleased to note that foreign nationals were now offered free legal aid throughout the procedure and not only at the stage of appeal against the decision on their case. It is also noteworthy that persons apprehended by the police at Keflavík International Airport were provided with an information sheet on their rights. In case of need, interpretation was assured (in person or by telephone) during the period of detention by the airport police. 

29. Conditions of detention at Keflavik International Airport Police Station could be described as satisfactory. Persons detained there, for periods not exceeding a few hours and, in any case, never overnight, were accommodated in a spacious, well lit and ventilated room equipped with a table, chairs and benches, as well as a TV/video set and some toys. Access to the adjoining toilet was granted upon request. 

30. As already stressed in the past, the CPT attaches considerable importance to the manner in which removal orders concerning foreign nationals are enforced in practice. In this context, the delegation was informed by the National Commissioner of Police that removals by air under escort were organised once or twice per week, involving one to three foreign nationals each time. This included two to three Joint Return Operations (co-ordinated by Frontex) per month, in which Iceland was a Participating Member State. 

In the report on the 2004 visit, the CPT recommended that detailed instructions be issued on the procedure to be followed and, more particularly, on the use of force and/or means of restraint authorised in the context of removal operations. The CPT is pleased to note that such an Instruction was issued by the National Commissioner of Police in February 2006. The Instruction specifies the authorised means of restraint in the course of removal (i.e. handcuffs and a “travel belt” with attached handcuffs) and requires the police to offer the person concerned food and drink, as well as ready access to a toilet during the flight. Administration of medication is only permitted on medical grounds and upon a doctor’s order. If required by the circumstances, the escort team should include a nurse or a doctor. After each operation, a detailed report must be drawn up and sent to the Ministry of the Interior, with copies for the Directorate of Immigration and the Icelandic Red Cross. 

The CPT welcomes the adoption of these instructions. However, the Committee has noted the absence of a formal monitoring mechanism for removals by air; it recommends that such a mechanism be set up. Further, the Icelandic authorities acknowledged that there was the need for specialised training for members of escort teams; the CPT recommends that such training be organised as a matter of priority. 

In addition, the Committee recommends that Instruction No. 2003070104 be completed by adding the requirement of a medical examination of the person concerned after any failed removal attempt. 

The CPT would also like to be informed whether the current removal procedure foresees an obligation for a doctor, prior to the beginning of a removal operation, to examine the person concerned and to issue a “fit to fly” certificate. 

Further, the Committee would like to receive clarification as to whether the above- mentioned Instruction remains applicable after the handover of the person concerned to the escorts of the Organising Member State (in the case of Joint Return Operations co-ordinated by Frontex). 

 

ENFORCEMENT DATA

Total Migration Detainee Entries: Flow (year)
Not Available
2021
Total Migration Detainees: Flow + Stock (year)
Not Available
2021
Not Available
2019
Total Number of Children Placed in Immigration Detention (Year)
Not Available
2017
Number of Deportations/Forced Removals (Year)
0
2019
Number of Voluntary Returns & Deportations (Year)
Not Available
2018
15
2009
Number of People Refused Entry (Year)
25
2019
160
2018
55
2017
Number of Apprehensions of Non-Citizens (Year)
110
2019
30
2009
Number of Dedicated Immigration Detention Centres
Not Available
2022
Number of Criminal Facilities Used for Immigration Detention
Not Available
2022
Criminal Prison Population (Year)
37
2018
124
2016
152
2013
Percentage of Foreign Prisoners (Year)
18.9
2020
16.9
2016
Prison Population Rate (per 100,000 of National Population)
29
2020
37
2016
47
2013

POPULATION DATA

Population (Year)
300,000
2020
329,000
2015
International Migrants (Year)
52,404
2019
37,500
2015
International Migrants as Percentage of Population (Year)
11.4
2015
Refugees (Year)
894
2019
573
2018
375
2017
179
2016
179
2015
99
2014
Ratio of Refugees Per 1000 Inhabitants (Year)
0.76
2016
0.3
2014
New Asylum Applications (Year)
1,483
2019
1,075
2016
170
2014
Refugee Recognition Rate (Year)
20
2014
Stateless Persons (Year)
69
2018
85
2017
131
2016
119
2015

SOCIO-ECONOMIC DATA & POLLS

Gross Domestic Product per Capita (in USD)
52,004
2014
Remittances to the Country
216
2014
Unemployment Rate
2014
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)
16 (Very high)
2015

B. Attitudes and Perceptions

MIGRATION-RELATED DETENTION

LEGAL & REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

Detention-Related Legislation
Act on Foreigners

GROUNDS FOR MIGRATION-RELATED DETENTION

LENGTH OF MIGRATION-RELATED DETENTION

Maximum Length of Administrative Immigration Detention
Number of Days: 42
2018
Maximum Length in Custody Prior to Detention Order
Number of Days: 1
2012

MIGRATION-RELATED DETENTION INSTITUTIONS

PROCEDURAL STANDARDS & SAFEGUARDS

Procedural Standards
Right to legal counsel Yes
2012
Types of Non-Custodial Measures (ATDs) Provided in Law
Designated non-secure housing (Yes) infrequently
2014
Supervised release and/or reporting (Yes) Yes
2014
Registration (deposit of documents) (Yes) infrequently
2014
Release on bail (No) No
2014
Electronic monitoring (No) No
2014

DETENTION MONITORS

TRANSPARENCY

READMISSION/RETURN/EXTRADITION AGREEMENTS

Bilateral/Multilateral Readmission Agreements
Denmark (1957)
2017
Estonia (1997)
2017
Finland (1957)
2017
Latvia (1997)
2017
Lithuania (1997)
2017
Sweden (1957)
2017
Norway (1957)
2017
Albania (2010)
2017
Ukraine (2013)
2017

COVID-19

HEALTH CARE

COVID-19 DATA

INTERNATIONAL TREATIES

International Treaties Ratified
Ratification Year
Observation Date
OPCAT, Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
2019
2019
CRPD, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
2016
2016
CTOCTP, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children
2010
2010
CAT, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
1996
1996
CRC, Convention on the Rights of the Child
1992
1992
CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
1985
1985
ICCPR, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1979
1979
ICESCR, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
1979
1979
VCCR, Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
1978
1978
PCRSR, Protocol to the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
1968
1968
ICERD, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
1967
1967
CRSR, Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
1955
1955
Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
Ratio: 12/19
Treaty Reservations
Reservation Year
Observation Date
CRC Article 37 2015
2015
2015
ICCPR Article 10 1979
1979
1979
Individual Complaints Procedures
Acceptance Year
CEDAW, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 1999 2001
2001
CAT, declaration under article 22 of the Convention 1987
1987
ICCPR, First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 1979
1979
ICERD, declaration under article 14 of the Convention 1967
1967
Ratio of Complaints Procedures Accepted
Observation Date
4/5
4/5
Relevant Recommendations Issued by Treaty Bodies
Recommendation Year
Observation Date
Committee on the Rights of the Child § 59. "The Committee recommends that the State party, in order to further strengthen the fulfilment of children ’ s rights, ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Optional Protocol to the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights." 2012
2012
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination § 20. The State party: (a) Take measures to reduce the higher rates of unemployment among persons belonging to ethnic minorities, immigrants and persons with immigrant backgrounds, including through the provision of vocational training and language education; (b) Conduct awareness-raising campaigns among employers to prevent racial discrimination in the hiring process and educate workers about the available remedies for cases of discrimination in employment ; (c) Issue work permits for a specific type of work or remunerated activity and for a specific time, rather than for work with a specific employer ; (d) Continue its efforts to improve access to secondary education for children with immigrant backgrounds, including by creating a national education strategy to identify inequalities in access to education and develop solutions, in consultation with affected groups. 2019
2019

NON-TREATY-BASED INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS

Relevant Recommendations from the UN Universal Periodic Review
Observation Date
No 2011
2017
No 2016
2017

REGIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS

Regional Legal Instruments
Year of Ratification (Treaty) / Transposed (Directive) / Adoption (Regulation)
Observation Date
CPCSE, Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse 2012
2012
2017
ECPT, European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment 1990
1990
2017
CATHB, Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2012
2012
2017
ECHRP1, Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights (amended by protocol 11) 1953
1953
2017
ECHRP7, Protocol 7 to the European Convention on Human Rights (amended by protocol 11) 1987
1987
2017
ECHR, Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (commonly known as the European Convention on Human Rights 1953
1953
2017

GOVERNANCE SYSTEM

Legal Tradition(s)
Civil law
2017

DETENTION COSTS

OUTSOURCING

FOREIGN SOURCES OF FUNDING FOR DETENTION OPERATIONS