17th Detention Visitor Support Group: Building trust in hostile environments

27 November 2023|JRS Europe

Detention visitor support group in Madrid.

The Detention Visitor Support Group met in Madrid for the 17th DVSG to discuss the topic of building trust in hostile environments. The encounter allowed more than 25 colleagues from 12 countries to exchange experiences, attend trainings, learn from each other, and find together new approaches to common challenges.

The sessions covered a diverse range of topics including Psychosocial Training, GDPR compliance, Consent management, Advocacy, Communications and Spiritual Accompaniment in detention. These trainings were led by JRS Europe, SJM Spain and partner organizations, such as Centro Cira, Mundo en Movimiento, Ödos project, the Secretariat of Migration of the Diocese of the Canary Islands and the Western Sahara Apostolic Prefecture.

While the latest political developments around the continent are grim, including restrictions to visit detention in Malta, medical violence against migrants in centres in Spain or lack of information about the new agency in charge in Portugal, the group keeps its hopes and commitment to end migration detention.

During the meeting, the group also discussed the preliminary findings of the upcoming “Access to Justice and Legal Aid” joint report. The analysis is still ongoing; however, the initial data suggests that access to justice, including appeals, is limited across the continent and the provision of legal aid is not guaranteed in all countries. Furthermore, even when available, in almost all cases, it does not require specific training in migration and asylum law.

Mariza Koronioti, JRS Europe Programme Officer in charge of the Detention Under the Spotlight project and lead organizer of the event expressed: “Visitors are vital for migrants in detention. They offer, in most cases, the only listening ear that migrants have access to. Therefore, visitors end up expanding their tasks and stretching to offer from medical service referrals and psychosocial support to legal assistance and mediation with the detention centre authorities”.

“While 16 DVSG editions have already taken place, its relevance remains unquestionable given the active participation of visitors and their continued interest in further training and professional development. It is also a space where they can accompany each other in their frustrations and challenges, which are often difficult to share with people who do not understand their particular everyday reality. This safe space offers them exactly that support”, she added.

The Detention Visitor Support Group was created in 2007 with the aim of offering training and support to staff and volunteers visiting detention centres across Europe. Since then, it has had annual meetings in which everyone gathers to share experiences and best practices in the hope of improving the services provided to people currently in Detention Centres.

Moreover, the experiences and observations of the detention visitors meeting at the DVSG lay the basis of JRS advocacy and communications work in the Detention Under the Spotlight project.