Under the title “Bringing hope without losing hope”, the 16th Detention Visitor Support Group meeting took place in Porto, Portugal, between the 14-17 November. The event gathered over 30 colleagues from 12 European countries to exchange best practices and discuss better ways to accompany people in detention. In the span of four days, the attendees also visited a detention centre in the city, had a discussion moderated by psychologists and participated in training on the new Detention Monitoring Database.
Claudia Bonamini, JRS Europe Policy and Advocacy Coordinator and lead organizer of the event, highlighted “The impressive level of active participation during this edition of the DVSG shows the continued relevance of this meeting even after almost 20 years. Accompanying people in detention is a challenging task, professionally and emotionally. It requires a large set of competencies, ranging from interpersonal skills to legal notions. In what are typically short conversations, visitors get very close to the people they meet. In some cases, they are the only person from the outside world that detainees see or trust”.
“At the same time, very often there is little visitors can actually do to concretely support the people they meet. Although offering a listening ear can mean already a lot to people in detention, visitors are often frustrated for not being able to help more. It is also not always easy to share such feelings with people who do not understand the reality of detention centres. This is precisely what the space of the DVSG offers to them and we are happy to see that they took advantage of that to the fullest”, she added.
Beyond offering a space to share experiences and support each other, this year DVSG also included an element of training. In the past years, JRS Europe has been working on the creation of a database that will allow to systematically collect and analyse observations from detention visitors from all over Europe. The information, reflection and conclusions extracted will inform the advocacy against the use of detention as well as serve as an essential part of the awareness raising on the realities of life in detention centres.
JRS Europe is planning a report on the state of access to detention centres in Europe for the beginning of 2023. This will be done with the contribution of JRS country offices in 14 countries. During the meeting, very preliminary findings were presented showing that, in most cases, after a period of interruption or strong reduction of the visits due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the possibility for visitors to access detention centres is back to pre-pandemic standards. However, huge differences remain between different countries, and even detention centres within the same country, in terms of concrete procedures and modalities. Once revised these findings, will be accompanied by recommendations in the final report.
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 to improve the services provided to people currently in Detention Centres.