JRS detention visitors between Covid-19 fear and monitoring challenges

09 November 2020|JRS Europe

Prayer vigil in Barcelona denouncing the existence of detention centres (Photo: Sol Quiñonez)

On the 3rd and 4th of November 2020, JRS Europe virtually held the 14th Detention Visitors Support Group (DVSG) meeting with the participation of about 30 visitors from JRS offices around Europe. The DVSG is an event designed to support and train individuals visiting detention centres and allow them to share about their experiences.

Dealing with the Covid-19 fear in detention

The meeting opened with a brief exchange about visiting detention centres during the Covid-19 period. Julian Caruana and Alexia Rossi, psychologists and detention visitors from JRS Malta, facilitated this session and gave a presentation on how to deal with and understand Covid-19 fear and anxiety for both detainees and visitors in detention centres.

Participants then exchanged about their main concerns and the challenges they face as detention visitors during the current pandemic. Difficulties in accessing detention centres and to reach and contact detainees were mentioned as the main obstacles for visitors all over Europe. The lack of access to information and the lack of sanitary and health care services appeared to be the main concerns for detainees.

Monitoring detention conditions through visits

Next day, the discussion moved to the issue of monitoring detention. The participants reflected on the visitors’ needs and challenges when asked to report on their visiting experiences for advocacy purposes. They further brainstormed on how the JRS network could work together to develop a common tool to store and analyse information on detention visits from across Europe.

During the discussions, participants raised some crucial questions about the purpose of their visits, highlighting that their first mandate lies in the accompaniment of people. They also raised several challenges linked to the development of a common tool that fits both detention visitors’ as well as advocacy needs and that works both for the different country offices and the regional office. Despite the challenges though, the visitors were open for a more structured collaboration and saw the added value of collecting and comparing experiences from the visits at the European level.

JRS Europe intends to carry on this reflection in the coming months and will keep seeking the involvement of visitors in shaping the advocacy work on detention conditions. We also hope to be able to resume our DVSG meetings in person as soon as the Covid-19 situation allows for it.