Imagine this for a moment: in 2020, Brown University's invaluable Costs of War Project estimated that, from the Philippines and Afghanistan across the Greater Middle East into northern Africa, Washington's disastrous two-decade long global war on terror had uprooted and displaced 37 million people. That was, of course, a mind-boggling figure.
Now, having taken another look at the results of those 20 years of invasions, air strikes, commando raids, nation building (or rather unbuilding), and god knows what else, the project's researchers have upped that number to 38 million and here's the stunning thing: they suggest that may just be a minimalist figure. The true number may lie somewhere between 49 and 60 million human beings turned into internally displaced people or refugees fleeing their homelands. We're talking, in other words, about more displaced people than at any time in the twentieth century other than the years around World War II. Try to take that in, for a moment and do so without even thinking about the estimated 200 million to 1.2 billion refugees who, within the next three decades, could be set in motion on this planet by the future horrors of climate change.
Under the circumstances, congratulations to Washington and the other great powers for creating such a world (and then, in the countries so often responsible, violently turning their backs on the uprooted). And now, as anything but a potential footnote to all of the above, imagine this: thanks to his decision to invade Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin, clearly ready to match the American knack for displacement, could set loose somewhere between one million and five million Ukrainian refugees to flood parts of Europe, according to a recent estimate in the New York Times. In fact, it took just hours after the Russian invasion began for the first such refugees to head out of Ukraine and 50,000 were estimated to have fled in the first 48 hours.
Honestly, we're already on a new planet, one set in motion in ways that should disturb us all. Today, TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse who, in his reporting from Africa, has seen what the uprooting of populations by war, terror, and a world on edge looks like, tries to imagine a "nation" of the dispossessed on this planet and what that might be like. One thing is certain: it would be all too well populated. Tom
Continental Drifters and the Nationless Nation
By Nick Turse
We live on a planet in motion, a world of collision and drift. This was once an Earth of super-continents Gondwana, Rodinia, Pangea. The eastern seaboard of the United States sidled up against West Africa, while Antarctica cozied up to the opposite side of the African continent. But nothing in this world lasts and the tectonic plates covering the planet are always in motion. Suddenly over the course of hundreds of millions of years supercontinents cease to be super, breaking into smaller land masses that drift off to the far corners of the world.
More recently, those itinerant continents were carved up by human beings into countries. A couple China and India are now home to more than a billion people each. But even modest-sized nations can be massive in their own right. Spain and Canada, neighbors in Pangea hundreds of millions of years ago, now have populations of almost 47 million and nearly 38 million, respectively, making them the 30th and 39th most populous countries on this planet. But together, they're no larger than a nation-less nation, a state of the stateless that exists only as a state of mind. I'm talking about the victims of conflict now adrift on the margins of our world.
The number of people forcibly displaced by war, persecution, general violence, or human-rights violations last year swelled to a staggering 84 million, according to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. If they formed their own country, it would be the 17th largest in the world, slightly bigger than Iran or Germany. Add in those driven across borders by economic desperation and the number balloons past one billion, placing it among the three largest nations on Earth.
This "nation" of the dispossessed is only expected to grow, according to a new report by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), an aid organization focused on displacement. Their forecast, which covers 26 high-risk countries, predicts that the number of displaced people will increase by almost three million this year and nearly four million in 2023. This means that, in the decade between 2014 and 2023, the displaced population on this planet will have almost doubled, growing by more than 35 million people. And that doesn't even count most of the seven million-plus likely to be displaced by Russia's recent invasion of Ukraine.
"It is extremely worrying to see such a rapidly increasing number of displaced persons in such a short time," said Charlotte Slente, the secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council. "This is where the international community and diplomacy need to step up. Unfortunately, we see a decreasing number of peace agreements and a lack of international attention to countries where displacement is predicted to rise most."
Homeless Survivors of Nameless Wars
The history of humanity is a story of populations in motion, people eternally impelled and compelled and propelled to travel from here to there. The luckiest have always shoved off of their own volition, in comfort and with happy hearts. Many others have been shoved along in chains or at the point of a bayonet; forced to flee as bombs were crashing down around them; or because soldiers in military trucks or motorcycle-riding jihadis, armed with Kalashnikovs, came roaring into their villages.
It's hard to wrap your mind around the enormity of 84 million people on the run today. It means that the population of the forcibly displaced is now more than double the number of Europeans driven from their homes by the cataclysm of World War II; six times the number of those displaced by the traumatic partition of India and Pakistan in 1947; or 105 times the number of Vietnamese "boat people" who fled to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand during the 20 years that followed the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Thought of another way, about one in every 95 people on this planet is involuntarily on the move. Add in those driven by economic imperatives and one of every 30 people on Earth is now a migrant.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).