Interns demanding fair payment outside the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York had their demonstration quickly broken up by security forces in the wake of International Interns’ Day, it has emerged.
UN correspondent with Vice News, Samuel Oakford, described how at around 1pm local time on Tuesday, a group of around 20 interns from various UN agencies braved bad weather to stage a flash mob outside the visitors’ entrance holding signs reading ‘UNpaid is UNseen’.
The event - which was organised by a group called Fair Internship Initiative (FII) - also saw the demonstrators line up shoes outside the building which, the FII said, was to expose ‘the shoes of the invisible young people who cannot afford to work for free at the UN’.
Upon entering the General Assembly building to take photographs to document the protest, Oakford described how security personnel in ‘black clothes and wearing bulletproof vests’ approached the group, demanding the reporter delete the pictures immediately.
Oakford wrote on the Vice News site: “After this reporter identified himself as a member of the media, the guards said that didn't matter, and continued to demand that the photos be deleted.
“Vice News refused, at which point one of the officers removed the reporter’s identification badge from its holder and walked off with it, explaining that security had to take down the information of everyone present.”
Highlighting how the incident was ‘a distressing end to one of the largest protests centered on their rights at the UN in New York’, Oakford said the interns expressed how, by campaigning for paid internships, they acknowledged that their actions could jeopardise their current positions along with any future job opportunities with the UN.
According to the International Interns’ Day (IID) website, 4.5 million students across Europe undertake an internship each year because it’s ‘a requirement to get a job’. However, the group says most internships ‘do not fulfil their purpose’ and need to do more to ‘empower the interns’ community’ in order to ‘achieve concrete political change’.
On 10 November, IID said protests for fair internship payment took place across the world, with demonstrations staged in Switzerland, Belgium, France, India, Australia, and Italy.
Yesterday, though, FII took to its Facebook page to highlight developments which are being made. The group wrote: “Yesterday, we hosted the first intern-led panel discussion in the history of the United Nations to discuss the role and status of young people in the organisation.”
Vice News reported how it is ‘not entirely clear why the UN claims it cannot pay interns’. However, speaking with The Independent, Farhan Haq - UN deputy spokesman for the secretary-general - said: "The simple point is that no protests are allowed within the UN Headquarters, by any group, and in accordance with that, UN security asked for the group of interns to disperse, which it did.
"We checked with UN security about the allegations made by some reporters that they had been asked to delete photographs. They clarified that the reporters were allowed to cover and photograph the event, but that some security officers had asked for the deletion of photos of them as they were going about their work, since they had not consented to being photographed. In any case, no photos were deleted.
"Regarding interns, we value the work that interns do at the United Nations. However, the General Assembly has not provided for paid internships at the UN Secretariat, and, unless the UN Member States decide otherwise, we have no budget to pay for interns. We are exploring how to improve the internship experience, but on the question of payment, we remain in the hands of the Member States."
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