Immigration For Members

Ten foreign 'colonies' thriving in the most unexpected of places in Spain

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Ten foreign 'colonies' thriving in the most unexpected of places in Spain
Nicaraguans in Zaragoza, Bulgarians in Segovia, Dutch and Belgians in Alicante, and Nigerians in Álava, there are many international communities spread across Spain. Photos: EZEQUIEL BECERRA, DIMITAR DILKOFFAFP, PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP, Muhammad-Taha Ibrahim/Pexels

You've heard of the Brits in Alicante and the Germans in Mallorca. But how about Little Bulgaria in Segovia or Little Pakistan in La Rioja? As it turns out, Spain is also home to foreign communities in some pretty surprising places.


Spain's foreign population is growing. Last year, it contributed a staggering 97.5 percent of the population increase, but the geographical distribution (and makeup) of these newcomers to Spanish shores is far from even.

Often, migrant groups tend to congregate in specific parts of the country. Of course, this is not simply a Spanish phenomenon. If we think of the United States, the long-established Italian community in New York's 'Little Italy' comes to mind.

READ ALSO: Spain's population hits 48 million with surge in foreign nationals

In London in the mid and late-20th century, the sheer number of Irish migrants arriving in West London and laying down roots there led to the rise of so-called 'County Kilburn', and areas of south London like Brixton became known as 'Little Jamaica' among locals due to the surge in post-war migration from Jamaica.

In Spain, these clusters of migrant groups also have deep historical and familial ties, but some of these communities you might never have heard of and it could come as somewhat of a surprise that they haven't chosen to settle in Spain's main cities of Barcelona or Madrid.


"Efecto llamada"

Often, a concept known as the 'efecto llamada' (the call effect) explains this. Essentially, when someone has a family member in a specific town or city, or knows of a pre-existing community of their compatriots in a particular place, they are more likely go there, and with time a community builds, whereas for earlier generations in the migratory chain, employment opportunities were likely the main motivating factor.

It is what Spain's Economic and Social Council (CES) refers to as 'cumulative cause', that is to say: "the presence of a large group of population of the same origin as a driving force behind the choice of a destination by the migrant or, in other words, the strength of the social networks of compatriots in the configuration of successive flows to Spain."

The 'boomerang effect'

There's also an interesting theory known as the 'boomerang effect' that partly explains these communities too, and it is tied up in Spain's colonial history and the successive waves of migration between (in both directions) Spain and Latin America sparked by these cross-continental relationships. Colombians, Venezuelans and Argentinians all make up some of the larger migrant groups in Spain. 

Galicians, for example, made up a significant portion of the migrants that arrived in Sao Paulo between 1945 and 1970, and now receives a disproportionately large number of Brazilian migrants compared to the rest of Spain, something that the study Brazilian Immigration in Spain suggests "may represent the counter-current of their descendants." Of course, Brazil was actually a Portuguese colony, not Spanish, but as we will see later on, in Galicia the historical and linguistic interplay between Spain, Portugal and Brazil is significant, even to this day.

READ ALSO: Older and more diverse - What Spain's population will be like in 50 years

So which are the most stark or surprising examples of these migrant communities in Spain?

Little Honduras in Girona

The province of Girona, in Catalonia, is home to 13,877 Hondureños.

Hondurans are also the largest group of foreigners in the city of Girona itself, making up five out of every 100 inhabitants, according to data from the Catalan statistics office (Idescat).

In fact, there are so many Hondurans in the province that in October 2023 the Honduran government even opened up a 'vice-consulate' there in order to deal with the rapidly growing population.

The Catalan province of Girona is home to many Hondurans. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)


Little Bulgaria in Segovia

In 1998, there were only 20 Bulgarian residents in Segovia, but by 2022 that number had climbed to 4,789, according to figures from Spain's national statistics institute (INE) -- which represents over a quarter (26 percent) of the foreign population of the province.

In fact the Bulgarian community is so established in Segovia (and in the Castilla y León region more broadly) they even have an Orthodox church in Segovia.


Little Pakistan in La Rioja

There's a sizeable community of Pakistanis in La Rioja, even though most of their 100,000-strong population in Spain live in Madrid and Barcelona.

Data from INE shows there are 2,533 Pakistanis in La Rioja, making a sizeable and visible community that has steadily built since the first wave of pioneering migrants arrived there in the early 1990s. Often, as is the case around the rest of Spain, the Pakistani community are small business owners, running vital community businesses like fruterías (green grocers).

Barcelona is home to most of Spain's Pakistanis, but a sizeable group lives in Spanish wine country - La Rioja. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)


Little Italy in the Canary Islands

New York isn't the only place with its own Little Italy. As it turns out, the Canary Islands is also home to a sizeable Italian community -- 49,987 to be exact, according to INE figures for 2022.

Fuerteventura island (where 6.6 percent of the Majorero population are Italian) and in particular La Oliva municipality has an enormous Italian population, with 4,322 Italians registered as living there.



Little Portugal in Ourense

Unsurprisingly, the Portuguese seem to settle on the border with Spain, specifically in Ourense. INE data tells us that 4,510 Portuguese live in the Galician province, but with the proximity and ease of cross-border travel, the Portuguese presence feels more significant than that.

But it's not just geographical. The Portuguese are also drawn to Ourense for familial, cultural and linguistic connections. Many have said that Gallego (the language spoken in Galicia) is something close to a mix of Spanish and Portuguese, making the transition easier for migrants.

In fact, for centuries there was even an independent microstate known as Couto Misto (also known as Couto Mixto in Gallego and Coto Mixto in Spanish) on the border between Spain and Portugal in Ourense's Salas Valley.



Little Nigeria in Álava

Random as it seems, Álava province in the Basque Country is home to almost 2,000 Nigerians (1,803 to be exact).

The Basque Country seems to attract African migration more broadly, and is a good example of efecto llamada. One in five immigrants in the Basque Country now comes from Africa (21.3 percent) and the African population has grown continuously in the last two decades, going from 6,543 people in 2001 to more than 51,000 today, according to the Basque Immigration Observatory.

One in every five migrants in the Basque Country is African. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)


Little Nicaragua in Zaragoza

A slightly less predictable migrant community is the Nicaraguan community in Zaragoza, the capital of the northern region of Aragón. Zaragoza is home to 8,377 Nicaraguans.

The city of León in Nicaragua and Zaragoza are sister cities, which seems to be one of the main reasons why so many settled there.



Little Cuba in the Canary Islands

The Canaries aren't just home to Italians.

If you've spent time in the Canary Islands or met anyone from there (and speak Spanish) you might've noticed that the Canarios have a little twang to their accent that marks them out as different to mainland Spain.

READ ALSO: Why do people in Spain's Canary Islands call the bus 'la guagua'?

To many, it sounds slightly Latino (or more specifically, like a mixture of Caribbean Spanish) and there're some historical reasons why. Cuba and the Canaries had generations of mass migration between the islands on either side of the Atlantic during the 19th and early 20th century, and in recent decades many Cubanos (often whose parents or grandparents are from the Canary Islands) have continued the trend and moved there.

As of 2022, there were 13,933 Cubans living in the Canary Islands.



Little Benelux in Alicante

Alicante doesn't just attract Brits, but also Belgians (11,447), the Dutch (14,004) and even a few from the tiny country of Luxembourg (119), proving that Alicante really is the favourite spot for all types of 'guiris' in Spain.

READ ALSO: Is the Spanish word 'guiri' (foreigner) offensive?

The Alicante town of Alfaz del Pi is home to many Dutch and Belgians, as well as Norwegians. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)


Little Brazil in Galicia

In the same way that the geographical, historical and linguistic connections between Portugal and Spain explain why so many Portuguese settle in Ourense, a similar rationale can be used to explain why so many Brazilians settle in the various provinces of Galicia, which between them are home to 8,876 Brazilians. Many of those likely first arrived in Portugal or have family there, before making the move across the border to Spain.

By province, A Coruña has the most Brazilians living there (3,495 as of 2022), followed by Pontevedra (3,231), Ourense (1,148) and Lugo (1,002).



Little UK in Alicante

In what will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, the biggest British enclaves are found in the Valencian Community, specifically Alicante province, where they make up 4/100 residents there, as well as in Andalusia (Málaga).

As many readers might already know, there are towns and villages up and down the Costa Blanca where you'll find English pubs, restaurants, waiters and menus.

In towns such as Benidorm and Torrevieja, there are entire apartment complexes (known as urbanizaciones in Spanish) that are essentially British and you'll be hard pressed to hear a word of Spanish there.

READ ALSO: The towns in Spain where Brits outnumber locals


Little Germany in the Balearic Islands

If you've ever been to the Balearic Islands, you'll know it's where the Germans tend to congregate in Spain. But what you might not have known is that the Germans have had a long love affair with the islands, in particular Mallorca, which has long been known as Germany's 17th 'länder' (region or state).

Almost 5 million Germans visit Mallorca every year, and another 15,385 are resident there as of 2022.

But the love affair goes back decades, and the German population really boomed on the Balearics following Spain's ascension into the European Union in 1986 when they began to buy up (relatively cheap, compared to the Deutschmark) property on the islands.

Now, years later, areas such as Calvià, Llucmajor and the Llevant can feel like German enclaves.


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M.Adkins 2024/06/04 18:33
And where are the Colombians concentrated the most?

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