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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Iceland : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Iceland : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 9 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Iceland is a volcanic island located in the North Atlantic between Greenland, Norway, Great Britain and Ireland. Iceland is Europe's most sparsely populated country with an average of about three inhabitants per square km. Almost four-fifths of its territory is uninhabitable, the population being concentrated along a narrow coastal belt in the south-west corner of the country.


Main languages: Icelandic

Main religions: Evangelical Lutheran Church (85%); Evangelical Lutheran Free Churches (3.5%); Roman Catholic Church (1,1%); Pentecostal and Charismatic Congregations (1.0%); and others (1.2%); a final 2.0% of the population is not affiliated to any religion.

The people of Iceland are an extremely homogeneous population, virtually all of whom are descended from Celts and Scandinavians. In 2004, 20,669 people (7% of the total population) who were living in Iceland had been born abroad, including the children of Icelandic parents. Another 10,636 people (3.6% of the total population) had foreign citizenship. The most numerous foreign nationalities are Poles (1,903), Danes (890), citizens of the Yugoslav successor states (670), Filipinos (647) and Germans (540).1 There are no indigenous minority groups.


The Republic of Iceland was uninhabited until the ninth century CE, when Irish hermits settled there. The first Norwegian settlement dates from CE 874. The Althingi, the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, was established in the year 930 AD. In 1264 the independent republic of Iceland became part of the Kingdom of Norway. In 1381 Iceland and Norway were conquered by Denmark. When Norway separated from the Danish Crown in 1814, Iceland remained under Denmark's protection. In 1918 Iceland became an associated state of Denmark until it recovered its independence in 1944. Iceland has a strong economy, low unemployment and low inflation.


Iceland is a republic, has a written constitution and a parliamentary form of government. Elections for the office of presidency, parliament and town councils are all held every four years, the most recent in 2004, 2003 and 2006, respectively.

Current state of minorities

Iceland has moved in recent years to strengthen its treatment of immigrants – most noticeably with the establishment of an Immigration Council to recommend policy and oversee implementation.

However, a 2006 report on Iceland from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) expressed concerns in a number of areas. ECRI urged the Icelandic authorities to strengthen its anti-racism legal provisions, as well as establishing a special body to combat racism. It recommended that the Iceland authorities carry out more detailed research into the attitudes towards minorities of the majority communities. Specifically, it noted that the situation of Muslims in Iceland had deteriorated – with instances of 'physical and verbal harassment'. It also noted that the Muslim community had found it difficult to obtain planning permission for a mosque and cultural centre in Reykjavik.2


1 Data: Statistics Iceland, 2004.

2 European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), Third Report on Iceland, Adopted 30 June 2006.

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