New Zealander David Hyde, 22, publicly resigned from his United Nations internship this week after revealing he had to resort to living in a tent in the Swiss city of Geneva because housing was too expensive and the UN doesn’t offer any pay or support for their interns.
Hyde, who flew 11,000 miles from New Zealand for the prestigious internship, is an international relations graduate who studied political science in Paris and then worked in Kenya. A picture of him wearing a suit with his UN badge next to his blue tent and foam mattress circulated the internet and re-sparked the discussion of unpaid internships.
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For two weeks, Hyde camped out on the coast of Lake Geneva near the city’s botanical garden, according to Tribune de Genève, who first reported the story. Rent prices in Geneva are among the highest in the world — the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the city is over $2,000 a month.
On Wednesday of this week, an unshaven Hyde wearing a wrinkled shirt stood outside the gates to the UN’s European headquarters while reading from a script announcing his resignation. Hyde explained:
“I’m announcing my resignation from the United Nations internship programme. 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.
“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.”
Hyde admitted to lying during his internship interview about whether he would be able to support himself while he worked, though the conditions of the internship basically stipulate that it is only for interns who are well off to begin with.
“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.”
However, he said knowledge of the internship policies doesn’t mean that they are right or fair policies. “Call me young and call me idealistic but I don’t think this is a fair system,” he said.
Hyde’s mother, Vicki, told Stuff.co.nz that the family was prepared to help her son but doubted he would accept the offer. “The family was only partly surprised to read of his living situation,” she said, adding that David has “a strong view on principles and how people should be treated.”
Ahmad Fawzi, a UN spokesman, explained in a briefing that a general assembly resolution prevented the international organization from paying their interns, according to The Local.
“We’re not allowed to even if we want to, and believe me we want to. We would welcome a change to that resolution.”
In his statement, Hyde urged interns worldwide to “push for the recognition of our value and the equal rights that we deserve.”