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Unpaid UN intern quits after uproar over Swiss tent home

un internshipA young New Zealander on Wednesday quit a prestigious but unpaid internship at the United Nations in Geneva after revelations he was sleeping in a tent to get by created uproar.

David Hyde, a 22-year-old with a degree in international relations, on Tuesday saw the story of his struggle to support himself in the pricey Swiss city while working for the UN splashed across the front page of a Swiss newspaper.

Pictures of him standing in an immaculate suit, UN entrance badge around his neck, next to a small, blue tent and rolled up foam mattress near the shores of Lake Geneva, caused outrage and an outpouring of offers of accommodation, according to the Tribune de Geneve, which broke the story.

But on Wednesday, Hyde, unshaven and wearing a rumpled shirt, stood in the glaring sun outside the gates to the UN’s European headquarters and told a handful of journalists he had decided to resign.

“It’s my own decision and I chose to resign because I felt that it would be too difficult to continue to focus on my work as an intern at this stage,” said Hyde, who started his internship two weeks ago.

To the Tribune de Geneve, he described the excitement at home when he was accepted to the prestigious position, but said his family was unaware of his precarious situation in the Swiss city, where rents are among the highest in the world.

– An unfair system –

“I just want to make it clear that no person forced me to sleep in a tent, but rather my circumstances and the conditions for this internship made it the only real possibility that I could see,” he told reporters Wednesday.

He acknowledged lying during his internship interview when asked whether he would be able to support himself during his stay in Geneva.

But he said he had previously answered that question truthfully and had found all doors closed to him.

“The UN was clear about their intern policy from the start: No wage or stipend, no transport help, no food allowance, no health assistance. I understood this, and in that regard, I have to take responsibility for taking the internship in the first place,” he said.

But Hyde said that knowing the policies did not make them right.

“I do not feel that this is a fair system,” he said, urging interns worldwide to “push for the recognition of our value and the equal rights that we deserve.”

A member of the organisation Generation Precarious organisation, located in neighbouring France, voiced outrage at Hyde’s case, insisting the UN should lead by example.

“They cannot allow there to be this discrepancy between what the say (on labour rights) and what they do,” he told AFP.

UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi, with three of his own interns in tow, spontaneously addressed the story during a weekly UN briefing on Tuesday, insisting to reporters that the world body was barred from paying interns by a General Assembly resolution.

“We’re not allowed to even if we want to, and believe me we want to. We would welcome a change to that resolution,” he said, urging UN member states to put forward a new resolution making the old one redundant.



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