Kiana, International Development Specialist from NY

Joanna Psaros

23 April 2021

Photo by Lukas Kloeppel on

1. What is your age, where were you born and where do you live now?

I am 29, I was born in Massachusetts, USA and now I live in Brooklyn, NY USA.

2. Can you tell me a little about your upbringing and your family?

I grew up in a two parent household with an older brother, Cameron who is four years older than me. I had a very peaceful and exploratory childhood and upbringing. My dad owned his own landscaping business at the time, so every summer Cameron and I would work with my Dad as landscapers. It deeply influenced me to be working so closely with nature and the earth. I think this was very formative for me because I love to observe and learn about the natural and plant-based world. I am fortunate to say that my Mom, Dad and brother are alive and healthy. I grew up close to my paternal grandparents, many cousins and distant family and friends. This community of empathetic and loving people created stability and support that allowed me to grow and thrive.

3. You are an International Development Specialist with particular research experience in and focus on climate change and migration. Generally, where do climate change migrants come from, and which regions do they seek to resettle?

The simplest generalization of where climate migrants are forced to leave their land in large numbers are those parts of the world that have experienced the most drastic protracted environmental impacts. Pacific Islands that are low lying and have small land territories, the Sahel region of Africa and south Asian deltas have seen widespread displacement due to climate change. Though, there are people that need to move based on climate change all across the globe, including many coastal areas and in the Arctic circle. Typically climate migrants seek to resettle nearby their original homes. This means the majority of climate migrants stay within their national borders. If migrants are seeking resettlement across borders, they will need to provide a different reason for migration under current international laws that cover migrant rights. 

4. What are the human rights implications of this trend?

The human rights implications of climate change induced migration is that the smallest consumers and industrial CO2 producers will feel the first and largest impact to their livelihoods. The global poor are and will be affected by climate change at higher rates than wealthier individuals and nations who have more resources. Human rights for climate migrants are at great threat on many levels like, right to land, right to food and water, right to a healthy environment, right to livelihood, and right work, among others.

5. You both volunteered with Refugee Advice and Casework Service in Australia, and studied migration in your native US. Did you observe any differences in public policy, and the public perception of migrants between the two countries?

I would say there are similar rates of xenophobia that I observed in both countries. I did work in NYC and Sydney, so they are two of the largest, most diverse cities in each respective country. I noticed that in NYC because there is a lot more racial mixing that the stories I would hear about migrants daily lives were challenging and complex but I heard less about public stigmas or stereotyping from migrants to NYC. In regard to public policy, Australia had a much stricter and visible offshore detention policy at the time and I was working with asylum seekers who worked to establish their claim for protection. The US, at the time I worked for the IRC, I worked in a different phase of the migration trajectory. So, refugees had already been assigned to resettle in New York and we were working with more local level policies that would offer access to establishing a new life.

[ For more information about Australia’s refugee policies, see the Refugee Council ]

6. On social media you shared a New York Post article in which the author, a climate scientist and black woman, stated “I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another”. Does this personally resonate with you on any level?

Yes, the article in The Washington Post talks about how racism on the rise and militarization against black people in the United States are distracting for black and brown people. People who have full and important lives and jobs and contribute to society in very fundamental ways cannot do their work because of racism. Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson makes the point, through a list of important things she had to pause doing over a week of intense demonstrations for the movement for black lives, that there is a massive collective loss of people able to work on climate change solutions because they are completely consumed by racism. She calls with people to action to help fix both institutionalized systemic racism and climate change because black people are exhausted by being impacted at higher rates than white people by both tragedies. 

As a black mixed race woman, with a passion for climate protection, yes. This all resonates with me because bearing the brunt of racism while being concerned about the impacts of climate change are exhausting and lead to significant burn out for black climate activists.

7. Can you think of a particular political or historical event, in your country or worldwide that particularly affected you?

In 2020 a runner and young man named Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down and killed by two white men while he was on a run near his home in Georgia. I love to run and at the time I had moved to my parent’s house once COVID hit and was running around a mostly white neighborhood everyday. Everyday I started my run I would think of Ahmaud and it would both scare and sadden me that this was how a young man got murdered. He was just out for a run and happened to be black. he was profiled and killed because of his race. It has impacted me ever since. Tomorrow is the anniversary of this death and I hope the celebrations of his young life inspire people to continue to dismantle racism.

March to protest Aboriginal deaths in custody and support the Black Lives Matter movement, Town Hall Sydney 11 April 2021

8. As an American, were you aware of BLM solidarity marches taking place in Australia last year?

Yes, the BLM marches got a lot of publicity globally and I was happy to see that there were so many in Australia since the natino has a very fraught relationship with race and blackness as well.

9. Who are your heroes?

My heros are Angela Davis, Arundhati Roy, and my mom.

10. Can you remember the best piece of advice your mother told you?

My mom told me that a job is always a job. you will always find a new job, but your passion to make a difference in another person’s life is the true work and we have to do it every day.

12. What are your concerns and hopes for your country’s future?

My main concerns are climate change, injustice and racism and my hope is that through unifying, my country can start to bridge these massive gaps in understanding and loving differences that have deepened over the past decade. I have a lot of hope for Gen Z. I think youth today are doing amazing things and teaching everyone else how to be more accepting.

13. What are your concerns and hopes for your own future?

My concern for my own future is that I am never able to fully accomplish my career goals, but my hope is that I can make a positive impact in others lives and always be grateful for that.

14. How has Covid affected your country?

The US has done an absolutely atrocious job in containing COVID. We have had 28.1 million cases and 499,000 deaths due to COVID. It is horrific and will result in a major and avoidable permanent loss for our country.

15. In one sentence, what do you believe human rights to be?

I believe human rights to basic freedoms and rights that all humans are entitled to and need to be protected for fulfilled lives and societies.

16. In your experience, have you ever been treated unfairly by people in authority?

In many indirect ways, yes. By virtue of being a woman of color my life is disrespected in systemic ways that unfairly make my successes harder to come by. 

17. What makes you happiest?

My friends and family make me happiest! It is always important to me to know that I am not alone and have a very loving community whom I care for and feel comforted knowing they care for me.

Girls’ Locker Room Talk: art, articles and entertainment by women, for women (and everyone else)

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