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Immigrant Capitals of Europe, from London to Moscow

London is the most ‘immigrant’ among European capitals: 40% of its population comes from other countries. Paris has 20%, 17,4% in Madrid, and 15% in Moscow. Ethnicity plays a higher role the lower the immigrants’ social level is, says Daria Bityukova in her study published in the HSE online journal Demoscope Weekly

‘The Famous Five’ capitals

Ethnic enclaves in Europe, ethnic identity of the newcomers, their professions, level of social adaptation, and specifics of settlement were the topics of the article ‘Where migrants live in European capitals’ by Daria Bityukova, Economist at the Moscow Research and Planning Institute.

The five selected cities – Moscow, London, Paris, Madrid, and Berlin – are comparable by a number of parameters (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Comparative characteristics of urban territories


District included in this study

Population, m. people

Square, km2


Density, people/km2

Number of districts

Share in the agglomeration

By population

By square


Greater London








The city and the ‘Small Crown’








Within the official borders








Withinn the official borders








Wirhinn the borders before 2012







Source: ‘Where migrants live in the European capitals’

London is unique in terms of immigration; it leads in many factors:

  1. The capital of Great Britain has ‘a lot of districts with a share of immigrants up to 70%’, but their distribution there is ‘close to normal’. In the other cities ‘some districts are asymmetric in terms of percentage of immigrants’.
  2. 30 to 40% of immigrants live in most London districts. It is followed by Paris – 10-30%. In Berlin this share is only 3-10%.
  3. London as the oldest immigrant capital has became unique back in 2001: it was then that immigrants prevailed in five of its districts. Paris only recently had a district with 40% of immigrants. In Berlin there are only 7 districts with 30-40% of immigrants and there is only one such district in Madrid.
  4. London is setting the vector of ‘immigrant’ development for megalopolises and demonstrates the whole social ‘kaleidoscope’ of immigration. On one hand, it includes ethnic ghettos, where more than half of the population is made up of poor immigrants. On the other hand, groups with high status, business owners (Indians and others) live in elite city districts.

Daria Bityukova’s general conclusion is as follows: for global cities with a long history of immigration, accumulation of immigrants in districts with cheap real estate is a ‘sign of social trouble, and in expensive districts – a sign of social growth and successful adaptation’. Ethnicity plays a bigger role the lower the immigrants’ social level is.

Madrid. Migrants live in the downtown and expensive districts

The working hypothesis of the study was that immigrants, due to their status, educational level and low income, settle in districts with cheap apartments, and their abundance in a certain district lowers the price of real estate. But this hypothesis was not corroborated everywhere: most clearly in Moscow, and far less so in Berlin. This has to do with the level of social stratification, specifics of immigration and social protection for immigrants and other factors.

In Madrid the distribution of migrants was quite unusual. There are not really that many foreigners in the most expensive districts. But they have settled in the city centre, where there are a lot of old residential buildings. There is also a stratum of people coming from other countries who live in ‘elite’ northern districts of Madrid. They are Latin American household workers who live with their employees’ families.

London. Diverse immigrants, maximum stratification

The British capital attracts both poor peasants from former colonies and oligarchs from other countries. Motives for immigration vary from searching a better life to choosing the optimal environment for a business. ‘People look for elite education here, any work for survival, or a ‘safe haven’. That’s why the level of social stratification in London is one of the highest in the world’, Daria Bityukova says.

The British capital includes both ethnic enclaves and mixed districts where foreigners live next to the ‘native’ British. The cheapest real estate is in the South-East, East, and North of the city. These are poor, partly ‘coloured’ districts, Daria Bityukova explains. In such ‘zones of low apartment prices, low revenues, and non-prestigious jobs’ immigrants from poor countries settle.

Paris. The poverty of Arab districts vs. the lustre of bourgeois areas

The expert describes the situation in the French capital as follows: ‘Due to the abundance of immigrants both from the wealthy EU states and from very poor African countries, there may be lots or very few immigrants in the expensive districts’. In half of the cheapest districts their share is close to the average for Paris at 15-20%, she clarifies.

There are more than 1m of the ‘new French’ in Paris, according to the 2006 census (not taking into account illegal immigrants).

The adaptation of immigrants advances with difficulty. Foreigners bring in their religion and standards of behaviour, which sometimes are met with hostility among the native French. Young people are in the most difficult situation: ‘Having lost their connection with their historical homeland, young Arabs also don’t feel at home in France’.

The researcher emphasizes the problem of ethnic ghettos. Algerian districts with extremely cheap housing have been built up with municipal high-rise buildings. Today these apartment buildings, hotels, and hostels for companies where ‘French Arabs’ work, form ethnic neighbourhoods like Saint Denis, with the ‘lowest share of qualified workers among immigrants, the lowest revenue per capita’, and a high unemployment rate. Such districts are quite isolated.

Berlin: a ‘divided’ city with cheap apartments

Berlin is very different from other big European cities. This is a capital with cheap apartments, and from this point of view migrants are offered rather favourable conditions in the German capital. At the same time, Bityukova emphasizes, Berlin is not homogeneous in terms of immigrant distribution. In 31 city districts, mainly in the East, the share of immigrants is under 4%. But in the western part of the German capital it has reached 12%.

Experts forecast a growing number of Berliners with foreign passports. Today there are 14%, and by 2030 there will be 16%. If we add migrants with German citizenship to this figure (and, for example, 60% of Turks in Germany have this), Berlin will be the clear leader among German cities.

The border between Eastern and Western Berlin is still clear in the ethnic structure. In West Berlin the share of immigrants is in average three times higher than in the East’.

Moscow: immigration in the context of ethno-cultural communication crisis

It is a paradox, but there is not enough data on the situation in Moscow. It is only known that ‘immigrants with low revenues settle in cheaper districts, close to less wealthy Muscovites’, Daria Bityukova says. As a result, in 89% of districts with the lowest prices, the share of foreigners is 2-3 times higher than the average. And in expensive districts this share is either close to or less than the average. ‘The inflow of new ethnic migrants decreases a district’s attractiveness’, the expert adds.

According to the 2010 Russian census, 11.5 m people live in the capital. The population is growing mainly due to newcomers from other regions of Russia and the CIS countries, Bituykova says. The main reason for this inflow is economic. ‘The capital is in strong need of labour migration’, the expert says. ‘Migrants maintain the employment in such sectors of the economy as construction, transport, utilities, and the retail trade’.

During recent years, up to 1.5 m foreign citizens have been living in Moscow (simultaneously). The number of illegal immigrants is difficult to calculate – evaluations of this figure vary considerably, as in the other capitals.

Immigration increases social stratification

D. Bityukova highlighted the common features for all five cities:

  1. The growing share and numbers of migrants is related to how successful their friends who migrated earlier are.
  2. The increasing share of migrants up to 15-25% of the capital’s population becomes a factor for social stratification – material, educational, cultural, and religious.
  3. Distribution of immigrants largely defines the level of their isolation.
  4. The problem of immigrants’ adaptation is rather complicated. None of the strategies – neither mixed settlement, nor a segregated one – may work. All the time there were no mass disturbances in London (like in Paris), we might have thought that segregation of foreigners in the presence of vast public spaces ‘for everyone’ partly improves the ethno social situation. But the disturbances in the London district of Tottenham – a national minority ‘enclave’ – in summer 2011 has debunked this myth.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, July 02, 2013