The Korean Diaspora Project: Koreans in Spain and France
While Korean migration to countries in Western Europe began in some cases at the start of the 20th century, the creation of lasting communities did not truly occur until some decades following the Korean War. Many of the initial immigrants traveled as interpreters, academic, or spouses of European soldiers who had participated in the war; at the same time, their movement westward was another example of Korea’s emigration program, one that had already started throughout North and South America. Following the 1980s, however, many of the Korean immigrants would migrate to Western Europe as businessmen or as part of firms (like Samsung) primarily because of increased commercial relations. As such, migrants to Spain, France, and Italy have, in general, been sparse and constant in their growth and size. In fact, for over a decade now, the numbers of immigrants moving to these countries has steadily decreased. Despite this, however, there are a few prominent communities that exemplify the profound and intertwined narratives at the heart of many cases of Korean migrants abroad.
One such community, for instance, exists in the Canary Islands, off the coast in Spain. Despite being smaller and farther than the larger Korean population in Madrid, the Korean community in Las Palmas is distinct and much more recognizable in its own way. This is because many South Koreans were attracted by the potential and lucrative fishing industry on the islands’ port city, which later served as a base for the National Fisheries Development Corporation of Korea. After the first immigrants arrived in 1966, a steady Korean fishing industry was born in the area. In 1985, for instance, the Spanish government offered 356 work permits to Korean migrants who wanted to move to Spain, but over half of them (221) were given to Koreans who were going to settle in the Canary Islands. Today, although the fishing industries have slowly come to cease, a vibrant Koreatown remains, where third-generation Korean Spaniards continue to live and excel in other professional areas, oftentimes moving from the islands back to Europe or to the United States.
In France, although bilateral relations between the two countries were first established in in the late 19th century, Korean migration did not begin until 1919, when 35 Korean migrants were granted work permits by the French Labor Ministry. A sizable number of immigrants that did come to the country in the intervening years were adopted and raised in French families. Today, the Korean population in the country has grown to over 12,000 people, with most residing in Paris—particularly the 15th arrondissement. There has been a sudden burgeoning of Korean restaurants and stores in the area, however; indeed, as the Hallyu wave has reached increasing popularity, the interest in Korean gastronomy and culture has increased. In Italy, meanwhile, the vast majority of Korean migrants live in the Northern regions of Lombardia and Lazio.
The presence of Koreans in Western Europe, though small, is pervasive and emblematic of deepening and closer economic and political ties between these nations. The stories of communities like the one in Las Palmas, however, are ones that will erode over time if they are not continuously celebrated and brought to the forefront of attention.
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General Overview of Koreans in Europe by Tobias Hübinette (from Mihee-Nathalie Lemoine & Kate Hers, eds., Overseas Korean Artists Yearbook Volume 3, Seoul, 2003)
120th Anniversary of Korea-France Diplomatic Relations
France’s “131 Year Old Friendship” with South Korea
Koreatown in Paris, France:
On Korean French Singer Youn Sun Nah
Bilateral Relations—A report by the Consulate of the
Republic of Korea in Las Palmas:
South Korea Builds Village in Homage to Korean Population in
Relationship Between Canary Islands and Korea turns 51 years
Statistical Number of Koreans living in Italy, per region:
Korean Culture in Italy:
Brief History of Korean Italian Relations
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“My Adoption Story: From South Korea to France”:
The Korean Community in Las Palmas, Spain
Korean French Vocalist Youn Sun Nah at Théâtre du Châtelet
Hankuk” in Las Palmas, Spain:
Korean Cultural Center in Spain:
Composer Ahn Eak Tai: