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Toronto has the second-largest proportion of foreign-born residents of any city in the world, a new UN report says: Almost half of the people who live there were born outside Canada.

The annual United Nations survey also shows that Canada improved its standing on the human-development index, placing fourth among 176 countries, four spots higher than last year.

The index takes into account such factors as life expectancy, adult literacy, health, education and gross domestic product.

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Canada moved up in the rating because it improved slightly in the category of per capita gross domestic product and in the GDP and education indexes. Iceland dropped from second to seventh place, and the U.S. slid from seventh to eighth.

With 44 per cent of Torontonians born outside of Canada, the city came second only to Miami, at 59 per cent, on a list of the top 10 cities by share of foreign-born people.

Los Angeles, at 41 per cent, and Vancouver, at 37 per cent, rounded out the top four on the list, beating cities such as New York, Sydney and London, which are typically considered among the most diverse in the world.

"You could come from anywhere in the world and feel comfortable here," Sandra Bussin, Toronto's deputy mayor, said yesterday after hearing the ranking.

"That people from many different nationalities and backgrounds can live in one city, in harmony, is a major achievement."

The data used to compile the list come from international sources, including Statistics Canada and the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the 2001 Census in Canada, the metropolitan Toronto census area included about 2 million people born outside Canada, from a total population of 4.7 million.

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The City of Toronto's website says the largest groups of immigrants to Toronto in the five years before the 2001 census were from China (45,901), India (25,560) and Pakistan (17,495). The website says more than 90 different ethnic groups are represented in the city.

Toronto's wide-ranging ethnic makeup differentiates the city from first-place Miami, where most of the foreign-born are from Cuba. According to 2002 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 96 per cent of foreign-born people in Miami are from Latin America, although a further breakdown wasn't available.

Tomas Regalado, a City of Miami commissioner, said that of the 2.5 million people living in the greater Miami area, about 800,000 are Cuban. Other sizable ethnic groups include Nicaraguans and Haitians, which he estimated at about 300,000 and 150,000 people.

"It's geography: It's easy to get here," he said, explaining why the city attracts so many people born in other countries.

Miami's mayor, Manuel Diaz, said in a statement that he considers diversity his city's most remarkable characteristic.

Vancouver's mayor expected his city to place higher in the ranking. "I'm surprised we're fourth," Larry Campbell said.

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He said the predominant ethnic groups in Vancouver are Chinese-Canadians and Indo-Canadians, although he added that many other nations are represented.

Mr. Campbell said that immigrants aren't expected to assimilate when they move to Canada, but rather to add their cultures into the mix.

"I'm sure that [Toronto Mayor]David Miller would say the same thing; the reason we are great cities is because of our diversity."

This year's UN human development report is focused on the theme of cultural liberty in a diverse world. "Driven by globalization, the number of immigrants soared in the last decade, especially to the high-income countries of Western Europe, North America and Australia," the report said.

It added that more immigrants are keeping close ties with their countries of origin through the Internet and low-cost air travel.

Norway placed first on the UN's annual human-development index, followed by Sweden, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.

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Top marks for Canada

Top rankings of countries by the United Nations Human Development Report, 2004

1-Norway

2-Sweden

3-Australia

4-Canada

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5-The Netherlands

Top cities by share of foreign-born population, 2000/2001

Miami: 59%

Toronto: 44%

Los Angeles: 41%

Vancouver: 37%

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New York: 36%

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