This post has been updated
This week, Tribune de Genève reported on one foreigner who had been forced by financial woes to live in a tent in the Swiss city of Geneva. This migrant was unusual, however, as he was not from Syria, Iraq, or anywhere else you might expect. Instead, the 22-year-old was from further afield: New Zealand. And it wasn't conflict or chaos that brought David Hyde to the haven of Switzerland.
It was an unpaid internship.
According to the Tribune, Hyde had been living in a tent in the grounds overlooking Lake Geneva to save money while working without pay at the United Nations. “How do the others do it?” he asked the newspaper. "Ultimately, only those whose parents can afford it get a chance."
Hyde has since told Agence Press France that he has resigned from his internship, explaining the media attention on him had made it "too difficult to continue to focus on my work as an intern at this stage."
It may not compare to the hardscrabble lives of other immigrants to Europe, but Hyde's circumstances did sound pretty difficult. He kept up appearances at work (he's shown wearing a pretty nice looking suit in the photo accompanying the Swiss article) but he brought a small backpack containing a gas-powered stove with him to the U.N. offices every day. He said he made the mistake of not buying a more waterproof tent, and that his relatives back home had known nothing about his plight.
The worst thing, however, was probably that Hyde is camped near the U.N. Beach Club, where other staff members drink and socialize. "At night, I see colleagues who come to have a good time," he explained.
Hyde's case may seem absurd, but the irony it highlights is real. The United Nations is one of the few agencies with the capability, reach and ethos to do anything about the global economic inequality that ties into the current migrant crisis. Yet its practice of offering lengthy unpaid internships strikes many as inconsistent with the notion of fighting those problems. Critics say that the United Nations and other international organizations rely on a culture of free labor in Geneva: Some have even dubbed the Swiss city the "world capital of the unpaid intern."
This isn't the first time that the U.N.'s intern culture has been highlighted: Just recently a number of Geneva-based interns marched against unpaid positions in the city, claiming that a failure to pay interns was a violation of the U.N.-backed Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Last year, the U.N. was forced to deny any link to a Web site that put a U.N. internship up for auction at $22,000.
The U.N.'s site does make it clear that interns are not paid and all costs must be covered by the interns themselves. A U.N. representative also explained to the Tribune that each different agency decides their own internship policy. To his credit, Hyde told the Tribune that perhaps he was "naive" in accepting an unpaid internship, but he worries if he leaves early he will have nothing to add to his resume. That's a dilemma many of Europe's other migrants certainly don't have.
Many are glad that Hyde brought attention to the issue of unpaid internships. "As a mother I worry about him and his prospects, but as a citizen I'm proud of what he's done," Vicki Hyde, his mother, told Stuff.co.nz.
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