The Russian Diaspora

The Russian Diaspora

The Russian diaspora is one of the most considerable in the world. Due to the country’s former dominance of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there are an exceptional number of ethnic Russians found throughout these regions. Particularly significant hubs include Ukraine (8.3 million), Kazakhstan (3.6 million) and Belarus (800,000). The remainder of the former Soviet Union also have exceptionally large Russian populations. Beyond this, the United States’ Russian diaspora numbers over 3 million while Germany (1.2 million), Israel (949,999) and Canada (550,000) also have significant populations, giving one an idea of just how widely dispersed this particular diaspora is.

The Russian diaspora has a fairly recent history, something which is surprising given its immense size. However, when one takes into account the sheer vastness of Russia’s geographic size and its former reach, this is fairly understandable. Notable exceptions to the rule included Russian Jews and other ethnic minorities such as Poles, who fled to escape the Russian Empire’s brutal pogroms. Russian emigration generally took place during its time under Communist control and is categorised in three separate phases.

The first of these took place in the wake of the 1917 Revolution, which saw centuries of Tsarist autocracy collapse and become bitterly replaced by a Communist regime. As a brutal civil war gripped the former Empire and the Bolsheviks consolidated their grip on power, a large number of Russians fled for abroad, particularly those with aristocratic roots or with close political ties to the deposed royal family. Furthermore, those fearing the incoming regime fled, including a large number of artists and writers. Those who fled in this first wave were termed ‘White Emigres’ due to their participation or connection to the White movement in the Russian Civil War. They mainly settled in the United States, the United Kingdom and France. This set of emigres were not united by a single ideological conviction, with many broadly anti-Communist and generally retaining an adherence to Russian Orthodoxy, something rejected entirely by the new Communist regime.

The Second Wave of Russian emigration occurred in the aftermath of the Second World War. In the inter-war period, as Stalin’s Communist regime reached the peak of its powers, emigration was severely restricted. The chaos of the Second World War provided a platform for several dissidents looking to escape the brutal regime. The majority of these included Prisoners of Wars and anti-communist forces, who seized the opportunity provided by the for of war to escape the Communist regime. These Russians settled throughout the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Canada. Following the establishment of the state of Israel, a large number of Russian Jews settled there, seeking a break from their anti-Semitic treatment during and prior to the Second World War.

The Third Wave of Russian emigration is a combination of those who left after the death of Stalin but prior to the collapse of the USSR, and those who left en masse afterwards in the 1990’s. Many of these people left during the 1970’s and mostly consisted of ethnic minorities such as Jews and Armenians. The collapses of the USSR and Communism in 1989 saw considerable population movement in Russia and throughout its surround territories as the borders were redrawn.


The United States’ Russian community is the largest outside of Europe, exceeding 3 million. It has a long history pre-dating the traditional waves of Russian immigration. The first wave of Russian emigration to the United States coincided with that of most other European populations in the late 19th Century. The majority of these were Russian Jews escaping the brutal series of pogroms enacted by reactionary leader Tsar Alexander III. The majority settled in New York City and elsewhere on the country’s East Coast. Many more fled following the First World War as anti-Semitic sentiments intensified and the Bolsheviks rise to power. A large number of the ‘White Emigres’ settled in the United States, including esteemed composers Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff, novelist Vladimir Nabokov and former Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky. The immigration rate slowed during the Soviet era due to heavy restrictions but resumed during the Brezhnev era, which was defined mainly by economic stagnation, prompting mass immigration to the far wealthier United States. Perestroika and the collapse of Communism catalysed a huge wave of Russian immigration to the United States. Again this mainly consisted of Russian Jews. Major Russian enclaves in the Untied States include New York City, particularly the neighbourhood of Brighton Beach.

Russian Jews

A large number of Russian Jews, believed to be nearly one million, have relocated toIsrael since the state’s establishment in the wake of the Second World War. This is in addition to Russian Subbotnik families, Russian Jews who settled in the Middle East in the 19th Century. A large number of Orthodox or non-religious Russians also live in Israel.


Eastern Europe is understandably the largest centre of the Russian diaspora due to its proximity and historical relationship. Ukraine is, by an overwhelming distance, home to the largest Russian diaspora population with over 8 million. The relationship between Russia and Ukraine is notably strained due to a history of conflict and issues of national identity. Other countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia also have significant Russian populations due to the transient borders between the countries over the past few centuries.

The Russian diaspora is one of the most unique and vast in the world. The country’s own questions of national identity have been a major source of inner conflict for several centuries as the region’s borders have been regularly redrawn. The rise of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc in the 20th Century has only complicated this further.

Main Image: Andrew Milligan Sumo, M Kalinin Presenting Joseph Stalin with the Order of Victory 1944, Flickr Creative Commons

The Jamaican Diaspora

The Jamaican Diaspora

The Jamaican diaspora is a very large one in proportion to its overall population. The Caribbean island nation has a population of 4.4 million. Its diaspora population is over 2 million. The population is generally isolated to a select few enclaves, with the United Kingdom having the largest population (800,000), followed by the United States (780,000) and Canada (300,000). While the population is present in other countries, it is not to a significant degree.

Britain’s Jamaican population is the largest in the world outside of Jamaica. This is due to the country’s former colonial ties. Indeed, Jamaica was one of Britain’s oldest and longest-lasting colonies, falling under British rule in 1655 until its independence in 1962. The island’s racial and cultural complexion shifted considerably during this period, the original Taino and Arawak populations becoming almost entirely replaced by sub-Saharan African slaves. The ancestors of this group comprise well over 90% of the country’s population today and very much encompass the contemporary definition of ‘Jamaican’. The relationship between the two countries remains close despite cultural tensions often emerging. Jamaican immigration to the United Kingdom has occurred in some form since the beginnings of the island’s colonial subjugation by Britain but increased significantly at the onset of the 20th Century.

Indeed, a large number of Jamaicans fought in the First World War in the British West Indies Regiment, mainly in the East Africa Campaign and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. The veterans of these conflicts often settled permanently in the United Kingdom after the end of the war. This marked the beginning of the country’s Jamaican community, although its population remained fairly stagnant until the mid-20th Century.

The Second World War was very much a major turning point for the United Kingdom’s Jamaican population. A wealth of different factors contributed to this. Firstly, a hurricane in 1944 left the island devastated, causing significant infrastructural damage whilst also eviscerating the country’s agricultural industry and leaving many dead. This coincided with a significant labour shortage in the United Kingdom caused by the Second World War. This resulted in a large wave of Jamaican immigration to the United Kingdom, where many gained employment in major national industries and services such as Transport for London and the National Health Service. This generation is often nicknamed the ‘Windrush Generation’, named for the HMT Empire Windrush, which arrived in the country in 1948 bringing a large number of immigrants seeking to begin new lives in the UK. Over 200,000 Jamaicans settled in the United Kingdom in the years following the Second World War, peaking in the 1950’s and 1960’s, remaining high in the following decades but at a reduced rate. Initially, the number of Jamaican migrants came from all social classes, but the demographics skewed heavily to the poorer migrants as the years progressed and Jamaica suffered a severe economic slump.

The Jamaican population has left a significant and widespread cultural imprint upon British society across a wealth of different areas. Jamaican cuisine is highly popular throughout the country, as is Jamaican music, which has been enormously influential on the evolution of British music. Reggae, ska and rocksteady are genres that are highly popular in Britain and the country has produced a large number of musicians in these genres. A large number of British athletes are of Jamaican descent including short-distance runner Linford Christie and footballers Raheem Sterling and Darren Bent.

Despite this cultural success, the Jamaican population has experienced a number of difficulties in its assimilation. Notably in the form of mistreatment by the police and systemic racism. This has led to a number of flashpoint over the past few decades. Notable flare-ups include the 1958 Notting Hill Race Riots, the Murder of Stephen Lawrence and the 2005 Birmingham Race Riots. Most recently, the ‘Windrush Scandal’ in 2018 saw over 60 people of Caribbean descent wrongly detained and threatened with deportation. Incidents such as these make it clear that the Jamaican (and the wider Caribbean) community continue to suffer issues of racial oppression. Despite the massive cultural impact of the Jamaican community on the UK-one only needs to look at the immense popularity of the Notting Hill Carnival to ascertain this-there are still a number of issues that are yet to be resolved. Demographically, the population is heavily centred in London, which is home to over 250,000 Jamaican people. Other major communities include Birmingham (35,000), Bristol (20,000), Nottingham (12,000) and Manchester (10,000). London is very much the hub of the Jamaican community, with major enclaves existing in East London boroughs such as Hackney and Haringey.

The United States’ Jamaican community, while similar to that of the United Kingdom in terms of size, is less significant in terms of overall cultural impact. Despite this, the East Coast has a sizeable Jamaican community, particularly centred around New York City. Jamaican immigration to the United States has its roots traced back to the early 19th Century when the slave trade was still thriving and the sugar industry was in need of large quantities of labour. As a result a large number of Jamaicans were recruited to plantations, with some staying on following the abolition of slavery. Jamaicans, along with immigrants from other Caribbean territories were often recruited to fill in labour vacancies in the wake of major conflicts, such as World War One and World War Two. The community did not develop significantly until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. The United States was a major source of emigration due to its geographical proximity and the wealth of economic opportunities there. New York remains the main hub with over 300,000. Florida, due to its close proximity also has a substantial population with 246,000.

Canada’s Jamaican community is also very significant. This is due to a combination of geographical proximity, economic benefit and the two countries’ shared colonial history. The community is predominantly based in Toronto, which has a Jamaican community of over 200,000. Jamaican cultural influence on the city is clear with its cuisine and music both hugely influential. Caribbean culture is celebrated with the annual Caribana event, which is a major festive event, bringing in an average of 1.3 million visitors.

The Jamaican diaspora, while not one of the most widespread diasporas in the world, is nonetheless hugely impactful. Jamaican culture, through its music, cuisine and festivals, can be felt throughout the world where there aren’t large populations. Where the diasporas are present, the impact is undeniably clear, the culture playing a major role in the various region’s multicultural identities.

Main image: The Windrush Generation.

The Nigerian Diaspora

The Nigerian Diaspora

The Nigerian diaspora is one of the largest African immigrant populations in the world, but its actual size is very difficult to estimate. The advent of colonialism and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade caused significant population displacement in the region. Portions of the African populations of the Americas can trace its ancestry back to Nigeria, although the exact size of this is ambiguous and is notably distinct from the modern definition of the Nigerian diaspora. The modern Nigerian diaspora has major centres in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Italy.

Nigerian Americans are notably distinct from African Americans and encompass more recent immigrants from the country. While African Americans hailing originally from Nigeria have been present in the United States since the 17th Century, modern Nigerian immigration to the United States has occurred since the mid-20th Century. Nigeria’s declaration of independence was a major turning point in immigration to the United States, unburdening it from the rule of the British Empire and freeing up the country’s movement of people.

Many early Nigerian immigrants to the United States were students. Immigration rates remained fairly low until the outbreak of the Biafra War in 1967, a civil war between the Nigerian government and Biafra, a seccionist state embodying the nationalistic desires of the Igbo people. This conflict caused 100,000 military casualties and up to 2 million civilian deaths. Additionally, there was significant population displacement as many fled the country. The rampant instability caused large numbers of the upper and middle class, particularly medical and business professionals leave. This immigration continued after the civil war ended. The 1980’s saw military dictatorships assume power, with many more liberal-minded, wealthy Nigerians leave the country for opportunities overseas.

The Nigerian population of the United States is generally wealthy and well-educated, with education informing a major aspect in the immigration story. The population is dispersed throughout the country but its most significant centre is, by some distance, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area of Texas. The population is predominantly Igbo and were initially formed as refugees and emigres from the Biafra War. The community increased significantly during the 1980’s. The population is believed to be over 50,000 in the present day. The main enclave in the Dallas city-centre adjacent to US Highway 75 is known for its wealth of Nigerian-owned businesses including restaurants and a market.

The British Nigerian population is large and long-standing, being traced back to the height of the slave trade. The population is clustered around industrial cities such as London and Liverpool. Prior to Nigeria’s independence, there were a large number of Nigerian students, mainly from the country’s upper class. As with the United States, large numbers migrated to the UK following the turmoil of the Biafra War, comprised of both skilled and unskilled workers. The 1980’s saw a major wave of Nigerian immigrants arrive in the United Kingdom following the fall of the petroleum boom, which left the country in dire economic straits. This coincided with a large number fleeing the oppressive measures of Sani Abacha’s military dictatorship. The population is overwhelmingly centred in London, with Peckham being the most significant enclave in the city. The population is predominantly Yoruba. The community is very well-assimilated, but there are a large number of Nigerian businesses, restaurants and places of worship that remain in the area, giving it a distinctly Nigerian personality. Other significant Nigerian communities include the North West and East of the country.

While the immeasurable impact of the transatlantic slave trade has made measuring the Nigerian diaspora a difficult endeavour, the modern-day diaspora is widespread and encompasses a variety of different social classes.

Main image: Rapper Wale, a famous Nigerian American.

The Polish Diaspora

The Polish Diaspora

The Polish diaspora is widespread and has been notably oppressed for centuries by a number of different external forces. This has caused it to become dispersed throughout the world, with particularly heavy concentrations found throughout Europe and North America. The United States has the largest Polish diaspora population, numbering around 9.5 million. Other countries with significant Polish populations include Germany (2.9 million), the United Kingdom (2 million), Canada (1.1 million), France (1 million), Russia (300,000), Ukraine (144,000) and Ireland (123,000).

The Polish diaspora’s history is heavily entwined if not entirely synonymous with that of the Jewish diaspora. Indeed, the Polish nation is historically defined by its constant encroachment by larger neighbouring powers such as Russia and Germany. The country has been partitioned multiple times. Poles have faced regular ethnic persecution throughout their nation’s history, something which has encouraged repeated waves of emigration. The Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th Century caused considerable population displacement as the Polish state (and the Lithuanian state) was effectively dissolved for over a century. Many Poles fled the country to avoid persecution. The Russian, Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Empires all pressurised the fragile country, eventually absorbing it entirely. Polish Jews were particularly oppressed during this period and dispersed throughout Europe to evade further persecution. Additionally, the absorption into these powers saw the Polish population absorbed into the various polities, accounting for the historical Polish communities in Austria, Germany and Russia.

The aftermath of the First World War saw the establishment of the Second Polish Republic and a slow rebuilding of the fractured and oppressed state. This became home to the largest Jewish population in the world, with many refugees from neighbouring countries arriving to escape persecution under authoritarian and anti-Semitic regime. This would prove to be short-lived as Poland was once again devastated by the imperialism of its neighbours Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. During the Holocaust, over 3 million Polish Jews were killed, devastating both national and religious populations. The Second World War caused devastation and considerable displacement amongst the Polish population, something which only increased in its aftermath. With the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel, a large number of Polish Jews immigrated there in hopes of escaping the persecution that had plagued them for so many centuries. The Polish diaspora also expanded throughout Europe and further afield to the Americas and Australia to begin new lives far from the carnage wrought upon the country by the Second World War and the Holocaust. Poland eventually fell under Communist rule for much of the latter half of the 20th Century, which saw a number of its more dissident citizens flee for democratic nations, albeit at a lower rate.

The final major instigator of Polish immigration was marked by the country’s admittance into the European Union in 2004. This allowed Polish workers to seek employment more easily in Western European countries such as the United Kingdom and France. The UK and Ireland in particular saw Polish populations skyrocket, which now constitutes the latter’s largest ethnic minority. Over 2 million Poles have emigrated in under 20 years, one of the largest expansions of the diaspora in history.

The United States’ Polish population is the largest in the world outside of Poland, with an extensive history. Polish immigration to the United States can be divided into three distinct phases. The first of which occurred in the late 19th Century up until the outbreak of the First World War. While small clusters of Polish immigration to the United States occurred prior to this (most notably in William Raleigh’s aborted Roanoke Colony in the 16th Century), major settlements did not occur until long after the Partitions of Poland. The main instigator behind the first wave of Polish immigration to the US was the Franco-Prussian War, which had a devastating effect upon Poles, who faced overwhelming and unbearable poverty at home. A large community congregated in the Eastern city of Baltimore, where it remains intact today, but the population dispersed widely throughout the country. It is believed that over 1.5 million Polish immigrants arrived in the United States during this period. The community achieved a sense of solidarity and unity which had evaded them in Europe due to the geographical and political divisions imposed on them by the various superpowers that had carved their home up.

The Polish population of the United States found work in working class sectors such as agriculture and mining, which suited their experience at home. The growth of the community was halted by the introduction of strict immigration quotas by the US government in the 1920’s. Despite this, the sheer magnitude of the first wave of immigration was sufficient to allow the Polish community to flourish in the country. A number of cultural institutions were established during this period celebrating Poland’s rich and extensive cultural history, something they were unable to do at home due to constant oppression and instability. The second wave of Polish immigration occurred following the beginning of the Second World War. Poland was invaded and its population underwent a vicious genocide under Nazi Germany. Large swathes of the population fled overseas, with the United States being a popular destination due to the large pre-existing community there. This period of immigration occurred between the outbreak of the Second World War and the collapse of Communism in Poland in 1989. Initially, Poles in this wave tended to settle in major urban centres, with large communities developing in Baltimore, New York City, Chicago and Detroit. As the 20th Century progressed however, the populations dispersed, settling in suburbs. This was particularly the case in Detroit, which was known for its ‘white flight’ which left the city a shell of its former self.

The final wave of Polish immigration occurred following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of Communism across the Eastern Bloc. A large number of Poles who felt stifled under the Communist regime and were unable to leave, decided to relocate to the United States, due to the stark contrast with the Eastern Bloc as well as the multitude of large Polish communities throughout the country. The majority settled in Chicago, which remains the largest Polish enclave in the country in the present day.

Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe has a significant Polish population due to centuries of political turbulence in the region. Indeed, there are large Polish communities in Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine. This is due to a wealth of historical factors. Poland’s national identity has regularly been an issue throughout the country’s existence and it has often fallen under the control of various large superpowers. This has, over a number of centuries, caused its population to scatter throughout Eastern Europe. The partitions saw Poles scattered throughout the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Prussian Empires. As a result, the Polish diaspora has a heavy presence throughout Eastern Europe. Further incidents such as the Second World War and the rise of Communism saw this diaspora increase significantly. Poles remain a sizeable minority throughout Eastern Europe in modern times and have dealt with considerable oppression and racism. While the situation has improved in recent years, anti-Polish sentiment remains a distasteful reality across Eastern Europe.

Western Europe

Similarly, the partition of Poland had led to the establishment of a large Polish community in Central and Western Europe. The most notable case is in Germany, which is home to the world’s second-largest Polish population. Poland’s incorporation into Prussia saw a large number of Poles settle in the region that is now known as Germany. Poles in Germany have dealt with near-constant prejudice and oppression, their adherence to Catholicism and Judaism deepening the contrast with the overwhelmingly Protestant Germany. They were subjected to the cultural pogrom of Germanisation throughout the 19th Century. The population spread throughout the country as the country underwent a rapid industrialisation process. Following the establishment of a Polish state in the wake of the First World War, a number of German regions were ceded to the new country, which intensified resentment towards Poles amongst Germany.

The rise of Nazism and the annexation of Poland prior to the Second World War caused significant population displacement. Following the Second World War, the Polish population bled into Germany as the former country’s borders shifted westwards. The Polish community remained massive in Germany and steadily grew throughout the 20th Century. Large numbers of Poles migrated to East Berlin due to the wealth of job opportunities there. Additional numbers fled to West Berlin to escape Communism. Poland’s admission to the European Union was another major turning point, with Germany being the most popular destination due to its close proximity and wealth of jobs opportunities. The population is widely dispersed throughout the country although the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and cities such as Dusseldorf and Cologne have the largest communities.

Other Western European countries saw a considerable rise in Polish immigration following its acceptance into the EU included the United Kingdom and Ireland. The United Kingdom’s Polish community had existed long before this, with many Poles settling in the UK to escape the discord surrounding its national crisis in the Partition period. The two nations forged a strong alliance, with a large number of Poles settling in Britain following the Second World War. 2004 was a clear turning point however, and saw a large volume of economic migrants from Poland arrive in the country. The Polish community of Britain is now one of the largest immigrant communities in the country, with Polish being the third-most-spoken language after English and Welsh. Ireland also saw a high volume of Polish immigration to such an extent that over a short period Poles have become the nation’s largest ethnic minority.

The Polish diaspora is one of the less-mentioned immigrant stories in history but without a doubt one of the most significant. Through centuries of persecution, Poles have been plagued with prejudice and questions about their nationality but have bravely persevered. While Poland is finally recognised as the state it rightly is, its diaspora population throughout the world has set up a series of communities proudly celebrating its rich culture and history.

Main image: Polonia and Poles Abroad Day, Athens, 2008. 

The Irish Diaspora

The Irish Diaspora

The Irish diaspora is one of the largest in the world. Ireland itself has a very small population of 4.8 million. More than double this number has emigrated from Ireland since the 18th Century due to a wealth of different factors. North America and especially the United States was the main destination. 36 million Americans claim to be of Irish descent, although these claims are difficult to verify. It is known that nearly 5 million left Ireland for the United States during the height of Irish emigration in the mid-19th Century while large numbers also settled in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

It is impossible to talk about Irish immigration overseas without mentioning the Great Famine of the 1840’s. This was the single biggest motivating factor behind Irish emigration. Between 1841 and 1851, the Irish population declined by 2 million due to deaths from the famine or mass emigration. The famine eviscerated Ireland’s potato production, which was both the country’s most significant source of food and income. As a result, mass starvation and economic devastation befell the country. There were other factors during this period as well, with labour-intensive jobs emerging in the United Kingdom as well being a major prompt for mass emigration. The Great Famine and its immense impact on welfare in Ireland was nonetheless an indisputable driving force behind the mass exodus that befell the country in the 19th Century. So devastating was the impact of the Great Famine that Ireland’s population continued to decline well into the 20th Century.

The main destination of Irish immigration was undoubtedly the United States, which in modern times, has a significant, albeit heavily assimilated Irish population. Irish immigration to the United States predated the Great Famine. During the 18th Century, it was believed that over 250,000 Irish settlers arrived in the United States. The vast majority of these were of the Protestant minority in Ireland. Despite this, there was a Catholic minority, which settled in regions such as Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The Catholic and Protestant Irish populations were very much separated and settled in different parts of the country. Irish settlers continued to arrive in the United States to fill labour shortages and deficiencies, particularly in the areas of canal building and lumbering. The Great Irish Famine saw a major increase to an already-significant immigration rate to the United States. Unlike previous Irish waves of immigration, which mainly settled in rural communities to suit their lifestyles and vocations, this new, massive wave instead opted to settle in large cities.

This facilitated an easier ability to established communities, a desire birthed by the sheer distress they had endured during the famine. It was also influenced by the considerable poverty sustained by the Irish as a result of the famine, preventing them from travelling further than the coastal cities. As a result, cities in the Eastern Seaboard such as New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore all became major hubs.

A large number of Irish immigrants were enticed by the prospect of making fortunes during the country’s westward expansion, although this paled in comparison to those who settled in major cities. A notable example of this is the construction of Kansas City, a project that heavily relied upon Irish labour. The Irish population of the United States remains one of the most significant ethnic populations in the country in modern times and aspects of the country’s culture have left a significant imprint.

While the community has heavily assimilated into the United States and is no longer confined to enclaves, there is a strong sense of pride and heritage amongst Irish Americans. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are widespread throughout the country and there is a pervasive sense of camaraderie, borne out of the distressing conditions behind the Irish mass emigration. Furthermore, the Irish diaspora was the first major wave of immigrants to arrive in the United States and influenced this population movement for many years to come.

Canada’s Irish population, while comparatively much smaller than that of the United States, was nonetheless formed under similar circumstances. Prior to the Great Famine, a large number of Irish settlers arrived in Newfoundland, particularly from the Waterford region. For the bulk of the 19th Century, Canada’s immigrants were predominantly Irish. Following the Great Famine, a large number of Irish Catholics settled in Canada, particularly in the French-speaking province of Quebec (which was the main port of entry). Unlike the United States, wherein the Irish population was predominantly clustered in major cities, Irish Canadians were evenly divided between urban and rural areas.

Preceding Irish immigration to the New World was a destination far closer to home. The United Kingdom and Ireland have long had an acrimonious relationship. Due to the close proximity between the two islands, Irish immigration throughout the United Kingdom has occurred for several centuries, stretching back well into the Medieval period. Irish immigration continued for centuries, but as with elsewhere, reached its apex during the 19th Century following the Great Famine. The poorest of Irish immigrants could not afford journeys far overseas to the United States or Canada and instead settled in the United Kingdom, particularly in major urban centres such as Liverpool, Manchester and London. While the population has been generally well-assimilated, enclaves exist in Northwest London such as Kilburn and Cricklewood, to such an extent that Kilburn is sometimes nicknamed ‘County Kilburn’. Shepherd’s Bush and Archway are also major Irish centres.

Irish immigration to Australia and New Zealand was also considerable during the 19th Century. Australia in particularly has a long history of Irish immigration dating back to the country’s early days as a British penal colony. Some of the earliest settlers in Australia were Irish prisoners of war from the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Between 1791 and 1867, over 40,000 Irish convicts were sent to Australia. In addition to this, a number of Irish immigrants settled in Australia willingly during the 19th Century and comprised a significant number of the country’s population. There is a sense of solidarity between Irish Australians and Aboriginal Australians, due to their shared oppression under the British. Ned Kelly, Australia’s most infamous folk hero, was an early Irish-Australian who embodied the cultural proxy war between Ireland and Britain that was acted out in Australia. Irish Catholics remain the country’s largest minority and played an instrumental role in forming Australia’s national identity. In nearby New Zealand, there is also a large Irish population, the culture of which has had a significant influence on the country.

The Irish diaspora, mainly found in anglophile countries, is a complex contradiction. It is both one of the most unified diasporas in the world due to the difficult circumstances behind its exile yet also one of the most well-assimilated populations in its various new homes. It is defined by a sense of camaraderie and unity, the likes of which are rare.

Main image: Irish immigrants in Kansas City, Missouri, c. 1909.

The Arab Diaspora

The Arab Diaspora

The Arab diaspora is one of the most widespread immigrant populations around the world, as well as one of the trickiest to define. Unlike most diaspora populations, Arabs are not categorised by a single country but rather a collection of 22 culturally similar ones. These are Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

While these countries obviously bear a number of differences, they are bound together by a shared cultural heritage and identity. The total population of these combined countries is over 400 million while the total diaspora population is difficult to estimate due to its prevalence, but is believed to be in excess of 20 million. The diaspora is dispersed throughout the world with major concentrations in Latin America, Western Europe and North America. Brazil has the largest population by some distance with 12 million, followed by France (6 million), Indonesia (5 million), Argentina (4.5 million), the United States (3.5 million), Turkey (2.6 million), Israel (1.7 million), Venezuela (1.6 million), Colombia (1.5 million), Iran (1.5 million), Chad (1.4 million), Mexico (1.1 million) and Chile (1 million).

The Arab diaspora in Latin America is the largest in the world, a fact which often surprises people. The vast majority of Arab immigrants arrived in Latin America at the beginning of the 20th Century. The majority of these settlers were Arab Christians fleeing the slow disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. The vast majority of Arab settlers in Latin America hailed from modern-day Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. The Lebanese and Syrian migrants generally settled in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico whilst the Palestinians settled in Chile as well as Central America.

Brazilian Arabs, the largest diaspora in the world, first began to settle in the country at the end of the 19th Century as the Ottoman Empire became increasingly beset by political instability. This wave of immigration continued up until the mid-20th Century, peaking during the Second World War and virtually dissipating thereafter. The vast majority of these immigrants were Christians, which facilitated assimilation more easily. Indeed, the intermarriage rate was very high between Arab immigrants and other Brazilians. The population has widely dispersed throughout the country and has not clustered together in a ghettoised fashion. Indeed, few Arab Brazilians today speak Arabic at all. Despite this assimilation, the Arab population (given its size) has had a significant impact on Brazilian culture. This is most evident in the country’s cuisine, which exhibits Arab influences. Furthermore, Arab cuisine is popular and easily accessible throughout the country. A large number of well-known Brazilians have Arabic heritage. Arab immigration to other countries in Latin America follows a similar pattern to that in Brazil. Broadly speaking, Arabs in Latin America have achieved considerable success across a number of different fields.

The Arab diaspora in Europe is a more complicated story, with issues of integration far more pressing than in Latin America. The diaspora hails from a wide variety of regions in the modern-day Arab world, but the majority are from Mahgreb in North Africa. This includes modern-day countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. This is especially pertinent in countries such as France and Spain, both of which have large Arab populations. France’s large Arab population stems from a variety of factors. Proximity being one but the most significant is its former colonial influence over the region. Indeed, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia were all French colonies. While under French rule, there was considerable displacement and the country’s Arab population skyrocketed following their independence, which facilitated freer movement of people. France, with links in Syria and Lebanon, also boasts a large Mashreq Arab population, although considerably smaller than that from the Mahgreb. France’s Arab community has encountered a unique set of issues due to the specificity of French national identity. Indeed, the French government has taken a hard line against the mainstreaming of Arab cultural customs, specifically those to do with the Muslim religion. The most notable instance of this is the banning of the burkha. France’s emphasis on national identity over cultural heritage has exacerbated tensions with the country’s Arab community, who are beset with something of an identity crisis.

Spain’s Arab population has a far longer history due to the country’s previous status as an Arab subject. In the 8th Century, Spain was conquered by the Umayyad Empire, which saw a large number of Arabs settle in the country. Long after the Arab Empire’s collapse and the rise of the Spanish Empire, much of the population remained intact, albeit significantly assimilated into the Spanish national identity. Modern Arab immigration to Spain is common, particularly from Morocco, Algeria and the partially-recognised Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, due to their close proximity to the country.

The United Kingdom’s Arab community is smaller than those in France and Spain but nonetheless a hugely significant aspect of the country’s multicultural identity. The Arab population is represented by immigrants from a wealth of different countries including Somalia (99,000), Iraq (70,000), Egypt (29,000), Saudi Arabia (29,000) and Morocco (21,000). The population is overwhelmingly Muslim and heavily centred in London and its surrounding suburbs. That being said, there are major Arab hubs in Cardiff and Newcastle as well as other major cities. The community reflects the cultural diversity of the Arab world and is amongst the most prevalent ethnic minorities in the country.

The Arab population of Europe, while its status obviously differs from country to country in terms of specific details, has faced considerable difficulty with assimilation and prejudice in recent years, with the rise of Islamic extremism in the West and the Middle East having a knock-on effect and contributing to misinformed negative opinions of Arab culture. Despite this, a large number of Arab immigrants have achieved considerable success across a number of fields throughout Europe.

The Arab diaspora around the world has been severely impacted in a negative way by the rise of Islamic extremism, which has exacerbated racial tensions throughout the world and instilled an exaggerated and misinformed sense of paranoia amongst local populations. This is in addition to pre-existing difficulties of assimilation. Throughout the world (Latin America being a notable exception due to its overwhelmingly Christian Arab population), the population has struggled to adjust to radically different cultures due to a sense of incompatibility in addition to pre-existing hostilities towards them. Arabs overseas are often scapegoated as an antagonistic and threatening ‘other’, a grossly inaccurate and unfair perception.

In the 21st Century the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein by US and UK military forces and the Syrian Civil War has convulsed the Middle East once more and resulted in millions of Iraqis and more recently Syrians being displaced. Many of these refugees have settled in Europe and beyond constituting the latest wave of the Arab Diaspora.

Main image: Exploring the cuisines of Little Arabia in California ©  Visit California.

The Sri Lankan Diaspora

The Sri Lankan Diaspora

The Sri Lankan diaspora is relatively large in comparison to the country’s overall population. 3 million Sri Lankans live overseas, with Western Europe, the Arab Gulf States and North America being major population hubs. Saudi Arabia has the largest population with 600,000, followed by the United Arab Emirates (300,000), Kuwait (300,000), India (200,000), France (150,000), Qatar (145,000), Canada (139,000), the United Kingdom (132,000), Italy (110,000), Australia (110,000) and Lebanon (100,000).

Western Europe has a large Sri Lankan community that has existed for several decades. This is due mainly to Sri Lanka’s colonial ties to Britain. Prior to the outbreak of the Sri Lankan Civil War in the 1980’s, a large number of well-educated, upper-class Sri Lankans settled in the UK. In the aftermath of the civil war, there was a surge in Sri Lankan immigration, particularly amongst the oppressed Tamil population, who fled to the West. The United Kingdom’s Sri Lankan population is more heavily weighted towards Tamils although there is also a Sinhalese population as well. France is also home to a large Tamil population, the majority of which were refugees from the conflict in the 1980’s. Paris is home to a large hub, with ‘Little Jaffna’ in the 10th Arrondissement being the central community of Sri Lankans. Other major communities in Western Europe include Italy, which is dominated by Sinhalese settlers. Unlike the case with most other Western Europe countries, Sri Lankan settlement predated the Civil War, with the Sinhalese drawn to the country due to the economic opportunities as well as the laxer immigration laws.

As is the case with other South Asian countries, the Arab Gulf States has been a major immigration destination in recent years. These reasons are almost entirely economic. The Sri Lankans constitute a large percentage of countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s foreign labour forces. Their migration patterns to these countries are generally circular, with workers often eventually resettling home after making a sufficient amount of money. However, there is a near-constant stream of Sri Lankan expatriates migrating throughout these countries that the rates remain the same.

Main image: Celebrations of Ganesh by the Sri Lankan Tamil community in Paris, France © Mai-Linh Doan.

The Pakistani Diaspora

The Pakistani Diaspora

The Pakistani diaspora is one of the largest immigrant populations in the world, numbering around 9 million. The large majority are based in the Middle East, particularly in the Arab Gulf States. Saudi Arabia is home to the largest population, with 2.6 million, followed by the United Kingdom with 1.5 million. Other major communities include the United Arab Emirates (1.4 million), the United States (500,000), Oman (239,000), Canada (216,000), Qatar (125,000), Malaysia, (120,000), Italy (114,000), Kuwait (114,000), Bahrain (110,000) and France (104,000).

Emigration from Pakistan has occurred for millennia and is due to a wealth of different factors. The earliest instances of Pakistani immigration date back to 3000 BC and continued sporadically thereafter with a number of merchants travelling throughout the Middle East. The Pakistani diaspora dispersed significantly during the country’s time as a British colony. Following the collapse of the Sindh in 1842 and the Punjab in 1845, the majority of modern-day Pakistan fell under British control. This saw Pakistani subjects move throughout the British Empire and its territories. A large number of Pakistanis were recruited as lascars by the British East India Company.

Pakistanis also found themselves in other British territories such as Australia and Canada, where they were recruited for major labor projects. Malaysia also was a major area of Pakistani settlement due to the close proximity, mutual colonial ties and a shared Muslim identity. Indeed, Pakistanis constitute a major part of Malaysian identity today.

Pakistan’s independence was not the major turning point in the expansion of the country’s diaspora as was the case for a number of other British colonies. Indeed, it was not until the 1960’s when the population significantly dispersed throughout the globe. Up until this point, there were fewer than 1 million Pakistanis living abroad. This changed as Britain faced a significant labour shortage, particularly in the emerging industrial towns in the country’s Northwest. This coincided with significant political and social unrest at home, including the secession of East Pakistan. This saw considerable population displacement emerge, particularly among males.

British Pakistanis constitute the Western world’s largest community. The Pakistani population is dispersed throughout the country as one of its most prevalent ethnic minorities. The British Pakistani population encompasses a wealth of different professions and social classes as well. In addition to the large number of labourers who arrived in the 1960’s and 1970’s, there were a wealth of educated professionals. The population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and generally hail from the Kashmir and Punjab regions of the country. The major hubs are in London, Yorkshire and North West England. In London, major enclaves exist in East London neighbourhoods such as Newham, Leyton and Walthamstow as well as West London neighbourhoods such as Ealing and Hounslow.

The United States is another major hub of the Pakistani diaspora. Pakistani immigrants can be traced back to the 18th Century, although these cases were isolated and rate. It was not until the implementation of the INS Act of 1965, which eliminated pre-existing, racially-influenced immigration restrictions, that the rate of Pakistani immigration to the United States increased significantly. The population is mainly based in the New York metropolitan area, with New Jersey also being home to a major community. California is also home to a large hub of Pakistanis, mainly in the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, with technology hub Silicon Valley boasting a large number of Pakistanis. Nearby Canada also houses a large Pakistani population, due to the countries’ mutual colonial ties to the United Kingdom. The Pakistani community in Canada was initially based solely in British Columbia before gradually expanding throughout the city. The relaxation on immigration restrictions in the latter part of the 20th Century saw immigration rates increase considerably.

Currently, the Arab Gulf states represent the largest Pakistani diaspora in the world. This is due to a number of factors. Proximity and cultural similarity are two major ones, as are the wealth of economic opportunities opening up in the region. This accounts for the significant Pakistani populations in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.

The Pakistani diaspora is one of the largest in the world. Despite its long existence, it was generally isolated in a handful of regions and has only exploded to its contemporary extent over the course of the last few decades. It is now one of the world’s most prevalent and wide-reaching diasporas.

Main image: The Curry Mile on Wilmslow Road in Manchester is home to a myriad of Pakistani bakers, delicatessens and handmade jewellery in addition to several halal restaurants and take-aways © Lifeofgalileo.

The Bangladeshi Diaspora

The Bangladeshi Diaspora

The Bangladeshi diaspora is one of the largest in the world, with a population of over 7.5 million people. It is fairly evenly distributed around the world, with no country hosting an overwhelming majority. The largest diaspora population is in Saudi Arabia (over 1 million), with other major populations existing in the United Arab Emirates (700,000), the UK (450,000), Malaysia (221,000), Kuwait (150,000), Qatar (137,000), Italy (135,000), Oman (130,000) and Singapore (100,000). The diaspora has settled in a number of different regions, primarily for economic reasons. Bangladesh is one of the most densely-populated countries in the world and has struggled with considerable poverty, an issue exacerbated by its vulnerability to a wealth of natural disasters.

In the Western World, the United Kingdom is the largest Bangladeshi population hub. This is due to the former colonial ties between the two countries. The Bangladeshi population of the UK dates back to its beginnings as a British colony in the 19th Century. Sylheti cooks were the first Bangladeshis to arrive at the behest of the East India Company. The population was for many years relatively small and male-dominant. The population was very quick to assimilate as a result, with inter-marriage being highly prevalent during the early years of immigration. This however meant that a British Bengali community did not properly develop for several decades.

Bangladeshi immigration remained stagnant for much of the early 20th Century. It was not until the wake of the Second World War when it increased significantly. They mainly gravitated to London as well as major industrial hubs in the Midlands and the North. A major community began to develop in London’s East End, heavily concentrated around Brick Lane. Again, these immigrants were predominantly male. As immigration restrictions were enacted in the 1970’s, a large number of Bangladeshi women and children arrived to reunite with their families, which saw communities develop more fully and on a larger scale. This was further increased by the outbreak and escalation of the Bangladesh Liberation War, which caused significant population displacement. The Bangladeshi diaspora in Britain played a pivotal role in the war, setting up a wealth of community organisations and liberation groups, partaking in activism. As the community expanded significantly during the 1970’s, a wealth of new businesses and restaurants were set up, particularly concentrated in the Brick Lane neighbourhood of East London.

Other major Bangladeshi hubs of the Western world include the United States, which has a large population in terms of size if not in terms of scale. The community is heavily based in the New York metropolitan area, with New York City and Paterson, New Jersey the central hubs. The population is overwhelmingly male with many immigrating for economic purposes. Canada also has a significant Bangladeshi community, the connection between the two countries existing through their mutual association with the Commonwealth. Italy is known for having one of Europe’s largest Bangladeshi communities, which constitute one of the country’s largest immigrant populations. It is a relatively recent phenomenon, having begun in large numbers in the 1980’s. Major cities such as Rome, Venice and Milan all have substantial populations and the population has steadily increased since the beginnings of the community.

The Bangladeshi diaspora, while one of the lesser prevalent in the Western world, is hugely present in Asian countries. The Middle East in particular has emerged as a major immigration destination. As mentioned above, Saudi Arabia is home to the largest Bangladeshi diaspora in the world while the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman all have large communities. An overwhelming majority of these immigrants work in the professions of day labourers and guest workers. Due to the lack of major opportunities in Bangladesh, the majority of its recent immigrants are those seeking a better living elsewhere, which has coincided with the ascendancy of the Arab Gulf States. They are known for their poor living conditions, something which human rights organisations have widely condemned as the countries abuse their desperate status for economic gain.

Similarly, Bangladeshis are prevalent as a cheap, foreign labour source in East Asian countries such as South Korea and particularly Asia. Due to Bangladesh’s cultural overlap with the Bengali Indian population, assimilation in Malaysia (which boasts a substantial Indian population) has been easier than elsewhere. The two countries share a historical connection stretching back several centuries. Large-scale immigration has been fairly recent although a number of Bangladeshis were forcibly resettled during their time as British subjects. Since the 1980’s, Bangladesh has been a major supply of foreign labour in Malaysia, particularly in plantations and construction. South Korea, a notably hegemonous country, also has a small yet noticeable Bangladeshi community, again largely centred in labour. They have suffered significant oppression and prejudice in the country.

The Bangladeshi diaspora is one of the most frequently abused in the world, with few communities being able to form (the United Kingdom being a notable exception). The community is often taken advantage of due to the economic and socio-political distress at home. The vast majority of Bangladeshi immigrants are economic migrants and their desperation has been mercilessly taken advantage of in a number of countries.

Main image: Parfett Street, Whitechapel E1al cane, Flickr Creative Commons.

The Indian Diaspora

The Indian Diaspora

The Indian diaspora is the largest in the world, numbering 31.2 million. It is widely dispersed throughout the world, with sizeable populations across each continent. The United States is home to the largest Indian population with 4.5 million, closely followed by Saudi Arabia with 4 million.

Other major populations include the United Arab Emirates with 2.8 million, Malaysia with 2.4 million, Pakistan with 2 million, the United Kingdom with 1.8 million, Canada with 1.5 million, South Africa with 1.2 million and Myanmar with 1 million. The population is so widespread due to two main factors, the size of the country itself and its history. Indian emigration can be divided into two main sections-colonial and post-colonial emigration. The various destinations of Indian settlement are divided across these two periods.

Much of the Indian diaspora throughout the Asian continent can trace its history back several centuries due to the regular shifting power dynamics across the region. While these communities have long since been deeply integrated into the respective countries, it is undeniable that Indians have historical presence in Southeast Asia, Arabia and Central Asia. A large number of the Indian diaspora can trace its history back to its time as a British colony, during which a large number of communities emerged throughout the world, mainly in other British colonies. This is especially the case for nearby former British colonies such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka-as well as the United Kingdom itself.

Another factor to consider when taking into account large Indian populations in nearby countries such as these is that the modern-day borders were far more transient prior to their respective independence. Therefore, large numbers of Indians were living in countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh prior to their takeover by the British and vice versa. These populations continue to exist today.

British colonial rule of India can account for a large portion of the modern-day diaspora, both directly and indirectly. During British rule of India, many subjects found themselves scattered across the globe to accommodate the demands of the ruling power across a number of other colonies. In addition to further increasing the communities in nearby British colonies such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Indian subjects found themselves in territories such as Malaysia, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. With the abolition of slavery in 1833, these initial settlers were often brought over as indentured labourers, naval officers or soldiers for various military incursions. The populations, in these cases, were initially relatively small and often transient, but sufficient enough to start small communities. The indentured labour system, known for its brutal mistreatment of subjects, was brought to an end in 1913. In total, this ‘old diaspora’ is believed to constitute 18 million people or 60% of the current total.

The ‘new diaspora’, as it is generally categorised, consists of post-World War Two immigration. This was facilitated by a number of major developments, most notably India’s independence from Britain in 1948. Its ties to Britain and the latter country’s high demand for unskilled and, at a later date, skilled workers, caused a major increase in Indian immigration to Britain. The previously small community exploded into one of the most significant Indian diaspora communities in the world. In addition, there were large patterns of immigration to other former colonies such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The United States, now the most significant Indian diaspora population in the world, also emerged as a major destination as its previously strict immigration laws were relaxed considerably.
The most recent diaspora is often nicknamed the ‘Gulf Diaspora’ due to the region of emigration. During the 1970’s, the Arab Gulf exploded in terms of economic prosperity due to its wealth of oil reserves. Large numbers of Indian workers moved to various countries in this region such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar. The Arab Gulf States has emerged as an increasingly important destination for Indian workers over the last few decades and is home to one of the largest Indian diaspora populations on the planet.


The Indian diaspora community of the United Kingdom is the country’s most significant immigrant community and an essential part of its multicultural identity. Due to the length colonial ties between the two countries, Indian presence in Britain has existed since as early as the 18th Century. The Indian community is believed to comprise a total of 2.3% of the country’s total population.

The Indian community began to take root in the UK following its (often involuntary) resettlement by the East India Company. The earliest Indian immigrants were lascars, sailors recruited to replenish their crews. Domestic servants were also recruited and brought back to the United Kingdom. Eventually, the population diversified as students, diplomats and skilled workers settled in Britain over time. The population steadily grew and exploded in the aftermath of the Second World War and the disintegration of the British Empire. Many Indian workers seized the opportunity of the British Nationality Act of 1948, which facilitated travel among commonwealth countries.

The population is the most ubiquitous immigrant community in the country and widely dispersed throughout the country albeit with major bases in London (over 540,000), the West Midlands (185,000) and Southeast England (over 150,000).

By extension, the Indian populations of other former British colonies also experienced major surges in the wake of the British Empire’s dissolution. Canada and South Africa are the most notable examples. Canada’s Indian population has existed since the end of the 19th Century. The earliest settlers were Indian Army soldiers. The early Canadian settlers were predominantly Sikh and experienced considerable prejudice and oppression. They also dealt with immigration restrictions, similar to those imposed by countries such as the United States and Australia. This caused the population from growing for much of the first half of the 20th Century.

The population exploded in the latter half of the 20th Century as India became an independent country and restrictions were eased in Canada. The community has since grown to be one of the country’s most affluent and successful demographics, with immigration remaining steady through the remainder of the 20th Century. The population is dispersed throughout the country but is most significant in the province of Ontario, (775,000) particularly in its biggest city Toronto. Other major population hubs include British Columbia (over 300,000) and its major city Vancouver as well as Alberta (175,000).

South Africa

South Africa’s Indian community has a unique history that is closely tied to the narrative of the British Empire. The community began as a group of indentured labourers dispatched to the country during its time as a British colony. The population is heavily centred in the city of Durban, which is considered to be largest ‘Indian’ city outside India. The population has dealt with considerable mistreatment throughout its history. From its beginnings as indentured servants through the Apartheid period, the Indian community has repeatedly struggled against adversity. In post-Apartheid South Africa, there have been a number of changes. Many Indians occupy positions of power throughout the social, political and economic spheres. The Indian impact on South African culture is best exemplified through its cuisine, with ‘bunny chow’ a symbol of cultural fusion between the two countries.


Malaysia is another country with a significant Indian population as a result of British colonialism. The country boasts a particularly large Tamil population, while the overall community exceeds 2 million. Despite this, the population’s presence in Malaysia significantly predates the formation fo the British Empire, with evidence of Indians in Malaysia being traced back to over 1700 years ago.

As the third largest ethnic population after Malays and Chinese, they represent a major part of the country’s cultural identity and are amongst the most affluent demographics in the country. There is also evidence of movement between the two countries’ during the time of Portuguese control. This increased considerably following the British colonial acquisition of territory throughout Asia. Sensing a major profit to be made in Malaysia’s plantations, there was a shortage of cheap labour, a vacancy imported Indian migrants were coerced into filling. The Indian population of Malaysia subsequently grew considerably during this period. By the beginning of the 1930’s, the Indian population numbered at over 640,000.

The growth of Indian emigration to Malaysia declined as the 20th Century progressed, but the population steadily increased as it became more and more deeply assimilated into the country’s culture. Indian influence on Malaysia’s notably diverse cuisine is evident with the high prevalence of curry dishes.


Despite this, the largest Indian diaspora population is, by some distance, the United States. Indian immigration to the United States can be traced back to the mid-19th Century, mainly in the West Coast. The community was predominantly Sikh. Indians, like many other Asian populations, had difficulty relocating to the US for much of the early 20th Century due to high restrictions on immigration. The population exploded following the implementation of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, with the combination of the pre-existing Indian community and the wealth of economic opportunities making it an ideal destination. The community is spread out throughout the country.

Major hubs include Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Dallas. The New York Metropolitan Area is however the largest hub, by some distance with a population of over 525,000. New York City has a large Indian community but the real heart is in Jersey City, New Jersey, which is the most significant Indian enclave in the country. Despite the large population, the Indian population is not as ubiquitous as in other countries due to the sheer scale of the United States.

Arab Gulf States

The most recent wave of major Indian immigration is centred around the Arab Gulf States. Since the region’s rapid ascent to power in the 1970’s with the oil boom, it has been a major draw for immigration from around the world across a variety of social classes. Skilled workers make up a particularly large proportion of the Indian population in these countries. Arab Gulf states countries are well-known for their immigrant-dominant populations and grant citizenship to immigrants very quickly. So significant are the Indian communities in this region that they form a majority in countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. They also represent a significant minority in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

As the largest diaspora population in the world, the Indian population’s story is difficult to condense into a cohesive narrative. What is clear however is that the already-diverse country, has achieved considerable success in a plethora of communities around the world and has overcome major bouts of adversity in doing so.

Main image: British Indians enjoying some traditional Bombay cafe fare at Dishoom London © Dishoom.