The Korean Diaspora Project: Koreans in the United Kingdom

In researching Korean diasporas around the world, it is easy to define Korean migration by solely the movement of South Koreans abroad. In many cases though, such as in Germany or in Central Asia, Korean migration can be understood though the harrowing narratives of North Korean migrants, who occasionally manage to establish their own settlements in foreign countries. Rarely, it must be said, do the two disparate Korean migrant groups ever cross paths. In the case of the United Kingdom, however, they have done exactly that. 

Although the United Kingdom can only boast the 12th largest Korean overseas community, it nonetheless has one of the most dynamic and interesting Koreatowns in the world. This community exists in the historic country of Surrey, in the south-west suburbs of London, and is called New Malden. It is not the largest nor the most important Korean community in terms of political or economic power by any means, but it is probably the most unique, insofar that it is one of the only places outside the Korean peninsula where North Koreans and South Koreans freely interact and coexist. Dubbed “London’s Little Korea”, New Malden is home to over 20,000 Koreans, of which 800 are North Korean refugees; as such, it is de facto the largest North Korean overseas community in Europe. The majority of North Korean arrive as illegal defectors and thus must seek a lengthy and complex asylum process to be granted permission to live in the country.

Though there are no definite reasons as to why New Malden is the home to such a vibrant community, it might be because of its originally cheaper housing, as well as being the site of the first South Korean embassy in the United Kingdom and the first European headquarters for Samsung. Since then, there has been a steady increase of South Korean immigration throughout the last couple of decades, as many come for better work opportunities or for the English education system. The North Korean influx, on the other hand, has been very recent: in less than a decade, it has risen from 20 in 2007 to its current 800. The UK might be a preferred destination because of a multitude of factors: the countries’ distance from North Korea, the fact that it is not the United States (an ideological enemy), and that it might offer better chances of adoption and integration than in other countries with North Korean communities like China or South Korea (where many grow alienated or suicidal).

Integration is never straightforward, however, and there are still complex relationships between the North and South Koreans who live in New Malden. It has been reported vis-à-vis first hand accounts that the two migrant groups function separately from one another, as if they were both content to merely co-inhabit a place then to try to engage together. Despite the close proximity and the shared space, there is still a degree of discomfort or sense of otherness that defines their relationship. In this quiet suburb, there remains the potential for a deeper and integrated connection.

References and Further Reading:

Kim, Yong-chan (2006), Migration System Establishment and Korean Immigrant Association Development in Germany and the United Kingdom, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Glasgow

Lowe, S, KS Hwang and F Moore (2011). Sensemaking and sojourner adjustment among Korean entrepreneurs in London (UK). Culture and Organization,

Moon, Seonghye. (2011). Expectation and reality: Korean sojourner families in the UK,

Shin, H.R. (2017). The Territoriality of Ethnic Enclaves: Dynamics of Transnational Practices and Geopolitical Relations within and beyond a Korean Transnational Enclave in New Malden, London. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 108(3), 756–772.

Watson, Iain. (2015). The Korean diaspora and belonging in the UK: identity tensions between North and South Koreans,

Kim, Young Jeong. The gendered desire to become cosmopolitan: South Korean women’s motivations for migration to the UK,

Kang, Jin Woong. “Human Rights and Refugee Status of the North Korean Diaspora.” North Korean Review 9, no. 2 (2013): 4-17.

Shin, HaeRan. “The territoriality of ethnic enclaves: dynamics of transnational practices and geopolitical relations within and beyond a Korean Transnational Enclave in New Malden, London.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 108, no. 3 (2018): 756-772.

Website and Article Links:

On the Korean Community in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (2105)

Tensions from korea spread to London’s koreatown. (2018, Aug 03). The Economist (Online), Retrieved from

Pickford, J. (2013). Suburbia feels distant korean tremors. FT.Com, Retrieved from

“The Korean Republic of New Malden”:

North Korean Destination:

Tensions Between North and South Koreans:

Life in London and New Malden:

Life in “Little Pyongyang”: a North Korean in New Malden:

North Koreans Come to London:

London Suburb Home to One of the World’s Biggest North Korean Refugee Communities:

North Korean Refugees in Britain:

Refugees Struggle to Adapt to Life in London:

New Walden and World Cup Fever in 2002:

YouTube and Video Links:

Little Pyongyang—a documentary by the Guardian on the North Koreans living in New Malden:

North and South Koreans in New Malden:

North Koreans Living in the United Kingdom speaking out against Kim Jung Un:

North Koreans in England React to Kim Jong Il’s Death:

Korean Festival in Kingston, UK:

Korean Restaurants and Cuisine in New Malden: