1940 to 1960

Post-World War II

These incidents
displaced at least

World War II saw the greatest displacement of people from their homes in the 20th century, with forced laborers dwelling in the lands of the German Reich, millions of ethnic Germans expelled from the Soviet Union, and millions more fleeing the increasingly harsh regime of Joseph Stalin. In 1950, the Allies set up the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, which has since sought to provide relief for people fleeing conflict.

1960 to 2000

End of the colonial era and post-Cold War

These incidents
displaced at least

Decolonization movements swept over Asia and Africa in the 1950s and '60s, starting with the Indian subcontinent, where 14 million people were displaced by the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Wars of independence and the civil conflict that followed sent millions flooding out of Algeria, Congo, Angola, Nigeria and others into neighboring countries, and newly minted military regimes often uprooted ethnic communities even after peace was restored.

During the 1970s and '80s, the Cold War’s proxy battles displaced millions of people from Afghanistan and between countries in the Horn of Africa. With the declining power of the Soviet Union, many ethnic and nationalist communities in Eastern Europe began to agitate for self-determination, resulting in mass movements between Armenia and Azerbaijan and within Georgia and Tajikistan. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, millions of ethnic Russians flowed into Russia from the newly independent states.

2000 to present

Instability in the Middle East

These incidents
displaced at least

Global displacement levels declined to a historic low in 2005, but started escalating again because of a series of conflicts, including the U.S. invasion of Iraq. By mid-2015, the total number of refugees and internally displaced people had climbed to an all-time high of more than 60 million people, the UNHCR estimates — reflecting both the masses of people newly uprooted from war-torn regions of Syria and South Sudan, as well as those displaced years ago from places like Pakistan and Afghanistan who still haven't been able to return home.

Editor's picks

What a year of Islamic State terror looks like

A look at how the Islamic State's footprint grew with every attack from June 2014 to June 2015.

The growing web of conflict in Syria

At least 129 people were killed in Paris Friday night. Here are their stories.