Today is World Refugee Day and for the first time in years the number of refugees is going up: “the dramatic increase is largely due to the war in Iraq, where an estimated 1.5 million people have been forced to find refuge in neighboring Jordan and Syria.”
The general decline in refugee population is a side-benefit of the underappreciated fact that the world became a much less war-torn place after the end of the Cold War. Media reporting tended to obscure this, but the absence of USA-USSR competition led to a sharp reduction in the funding stream available for the would-be prosecutors of proxy wars in the third world. There turn out, in short, to have been major humanitarian benefits to reduction in tensions between the major powers. More recently, by contrast, US-Iranian tensions are contributing to civil strife in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories (obviously, these conflicts have their own local roots and dynamics, but the US-Iranian conflict helps pour gasoline on the fire). And, of course, it’s at least possible that future decades will see US-China competition on a grand scale in a manner that would have very dire consequences for this sort of thing.