Welcome the ‘Stranger’

Written by Tinka Harvard

‘Our traditions says thirty-six times you shall welcome the stranger.’

—Danny Schild, founder of Canadians Helping
Asylum Seekers in Israel (CHAI)

The nation of Israel, created in response to the Jewish people’s history as refugees, is currently trying to ‘stem the tide’ of non-Jewish asylum seekers. In response to an influx of migration of refugees travelling from Sudan through Egypt into Israel, the country has built a wall along the border separating them from Egypt. Although the nation was founded as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in light of the Holocaust, the nation is overwhelmed by non-Jewish asylum seekers. Officials, including former and present prime ministers, want to have non-Jewish refugees return to their own countries or a third country. As several Israelis endeavor to separate themselves from non-Jewish asylum seekers, this practice leaves the refugees vulnerable to social exclusion, along with its consequences.[i]

Social exclusion happens over time. It is not an individual occurrence. It is incremental and multifaceted. Social exclusion in a particular instance can create disconnects in many other ways. That exclusion then expands for both individuals as well as groups and communities.[ii] It also affects opportunities regarding education, employment, housing conditions, and mental and physical health. This is a social exclusion that is multidimensional and relational.[iii]

Ironically, religion can also play a role in social exclusion. As one example, some orthodox Jewish communities in Israel separate themselves from all other communities. One reason for this is that orthodox families do not want their children to attend school with non-orthodox children or to play with them. These divisions often involve no personal connections or meeting points outside of one’s own community. Non–orthodox Jewish people cannot live, work, or attend school in orthodox Jewish communities, creating an exclusion of ‘the other.’[iv]

Also, religious guidelines of separation can lead to the violation of social rights and equality, which illustrates how one’s religious beliefs can impede the civil rights of another and break, or at least create tension with, societal laws.[v] While attempting to resolve injustices resulting from religious practices and other inequalities within a nation, questions arise as to how best to attempt to eradicate inequalities in light of numerous social and political considerations that exist both within and without differing ethnic and religious communities.[vi]

Diversity, as it relates to religion, is counter to Israel’s goals.[vii] Presently, in the case of non-Jewish asylum seekers, social exclusion entails likely expulsion from Israel. It also includes socially excluding the refugees while they live in Israel, creating economic instability for them and forcing them to attend separate schools and live apart from the dominant society in segregated housing. Israel’s treatment of non-Jewish asylum seekers has disturbed many Jewish people nationally and internationally, including the former Canadian ambassador to Israel.[viii]


‘Jews have been persecuted people their whole existence, while Israel was never perfect, the Israel I grew up with was going to be the land of Jewish people with Jewish people’s values, which were to recognize what we suffered through and ensure that other people didn’t go through that.’

—Jon Allen, former Canadian Ambassador to Israel[ix]

Israel’s goal to have the non-Jewish migrants return to their own countries or to a third country is being met with resistance by faith-based organizations, including Jewish and Christian and private individuals and groups, both secular and nonsecular. These groups and individuals are against separation, social exclusion, social injustice, and its effects. They sponsor asylum seekers to resettle them in third countries. The desire is for the asylum seekers to be able to live safe and free from social injustice and exclusion so that they can live and experience deep equality in their daily lives.[x]


Resources for Helping to Welcome Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Upon hearing of a crisis somewhere in the world, have you ever wondered how best to inform yourself, get involved, and help? Many reputable organizations can serve as an entry point.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is an organization that represents asylum seekers in Israel. In July 2017, the organization sent a petition to the Israeli High Court asking the state to grant visas to Sudanese asylum seekers. This was due to the state not processing the asylum seekers’ claims requests for refugee status for years. The reason the court granted the requests for visas is believed to be due to persistent pressure from HIAS. The Israeli interior ministry complied with the court ruling granting temporary residence status to more than two thousand asylum seekers in 2022. Even with the optimistic ruling, all remains precarious for many asylum seekers. What the future holds for them in the long-term remains uncertain, and questions endure. HIAS is committed to standing with asylum seekers for the long haul.[xi]

‘This is great news for our clients, who have been in Israel without basic rights for over a decade.’

—Nimrod Avigal, deputy director and head of legal aid at HIAS Israel[xii]

In Canada, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program serves as a model for helping to provide physical and emotional safety and security for migrants and asylum seekers. Through this program, ordinary citizens can join or form groups to sponsor refugees abroad. The work of social justice and diminishing social exclusion can seem immense. Still, with the help of programs like PSR, anyone can make an extraordinary impact on the lives of refugees.[xiii]

Outside of Canada and Israel, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as United Nations Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to protecting the rights of refugees around the world. The UNHCR is an excellent starting point to get involved.[xiv] Because in the end, “an immigrant is just someone who used to be somewhere else”.[xv]



[i].     Dina Kraft and Sara Miller Llana. ‘Denied Asylum in Israel, Eritreans Are Welcomed by Canadian Jews.’ The Christian Science Monitor, 21 January 2022. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/2022/0121/Denied-asylum-in-Israel-Eritreans-are-welcomed-by-Canadian-Jews.

[ii].    Hilary Silver. ‘The Process of Social Exclusion: The Dynamics of an Evolving Concept.’ London: Chronic Poverty Research Center, 1 October 2007, p. i. https://ssrn.com/abstract=1087789 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1087789.

[iii].   Marie Macey and Alan Carling. Ethnic, Racial and Religious Inequalities: The Perils of Subjectivity. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 38.

[iv].   Pew Research Center. ‘Israel’s Religiously Divided Society.’ Youtube, 16 October 2016 (video). https://youtu.be/vCH0uecc4dY.

[v].    Adam Liptak. ‘In Narrow Decision, Supreme Court Sides with Baker Who Turned Away Gay Couple.’ The New York Times, 4 June 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/04/us/politics/supreme-court-sides-with-baker-who-turned-away-gay-couple.html.

[vi].   Macey and Carling, p. 37.

[vii].  Kraft and Miller Llana.

[viii]. Ibid.

[ix].   Ibid.

[x].    Ibid.

[xi].   Sharon Samber. ‘Finally Some Good News for Sudanese Asylum Seekers in Israel,’ HIAS Blog, 13 January 2022. https://www.hias.org/blog/finally-some-good-news-sudanese-asylum-seekers-israel.

[xii].  Ibid.

[xiii]. Government of Canada, Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) program. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/help-outside-canada/private-sponsorship-program.html.

[xiv]. United Nations High Commission for Refugees. https://www.unhcr.org.

[xv].  Russell Brand. Messiah Complex. Epix, 2013 (video). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joyrLi0Rjck.

Project Hourglass

Written by Tinka Harvard

A worker at a construction site along Israel’s 150-mile long fence on the Egyptian Sinai border was completed in 2013. (Photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)[I]


Hourglass (a literal translation of the Hebrew ‘שְׁעוֹן הַחוֹל,’ or ‘sand clock’) is the name of the project that refers to a fence built by Israel along its border with Egypt to decrease the influx of asylum seekers from Sudan and Darfur.[i] Migrants are often individuals and communities fleeing conflict and fragility in their home countries and seeking refuge and safety from violence or economic poverty.[ii]

Fragility and conflict create a continuum of reasons people leave their country of origin, voluntarily or involuntarily, including national or international war, unstable government, environmental disasters, economic instability, and terror.[iii] Fragile states contributed 18 million migrants and 8 million refugees in 2000.[iv] By mid-2020, the global refugee population had reached 26.3 million.[v]


When people are able to migrate, where do they go?

About half of the world’s migrants travel to high-income countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Seeking refuge in Israel provides safety from extreme violence and an opportunity for economic betterment. It can also be a bridge to eventually entering Europe, which provides even more prospects for safety and freedom from poverty.[vi]


What is the conflict and fragility about
for migrants travelling to Israel?

Migrants and refugees from Sudan, in particular, migrate or flee because of government destabilization and economic collapse, which are results of the on-and-off civil wars since 1955. This has forced millions of Sudanese to leave the country, often crossing into Israel by land via Egypt to seek asylum. They are forcibly displaced by war and other factors, including the civil war between the predominantly Muslim north and the rebels from the south, where people are mostly Christian or follow traditional African religions.[vii]

Since social exclusion is a process that ‘at any one time, people are situated on a multidimensional continuum,’ being excluded socially in one instance often creates a disconnect in many other ways. That exclusion then expands for both individuals as well as groups and communities.[viii]

Religion can bring people together, but, ironically, it is often used to keep them separated. This separation by religion—or positioning of one religion over another—has been used by Western cultures to gain control of people.[ix] To aid in this control, Western Christianity was not eliminated but rather absorbed by the state, reducing ecclesiastical power, all while creating a myth that the Western religion of Christianity was a ‘better’ religion. This meant that ‘non-Western’ religions were ‘othered’ and deemed inferior. This created a separation of people as well, not only in faith traditions, which translated to non-Western people being considered ‘violent, subrational, sub modern,’ and even sexist.[x]


How do we begin to eliminate the borders between us?

As myths have been propagated about Western Christianity being superior to other religions—which demonized, othered, and divided people and nations—it begs the question: What existed before the myths that one religion or group of people was better than the other religions or groups? What existed before borders were created? What existed before the West created its own separations? Guidance from Elie Wiesel, writing in The Gates of the Forest, may lend a helping hand in pointing toward answers to these questions. In this novel, he writes about the importance of telling our stories when we are trying to find our way back together again, sans separation and borders between each of us:

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn

To overcome misfortune.

Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands,

He spoke to God: ‘I am unable to light the fire

And I do not know the prayer;

I cannot even find the place in the forest.

All I can do is to tell the story,

And this must be sufficient.’

And it was sufficient.[xi]

Theologian John Swinton wants to foster inclusion and eliminate social exclusion and its devastating consequences. In a podcast interview of Swinton by host Sarah Kife, he calls for lifting the voices that have been repressed and stigmatized as we flesh out ways for us all to be fully human in the marvel of diversity.[xii]

Swinton encourages us all to be present and to listen to one another on this journey of being fully human. As the host, Kife reminds us, ‘we need each other to remember who we are, especially in times of crises, and how to find one’s voice in a world that can stigmatize and oppress people simply for being “different.”’[xiii] Swinton’s and Kife’s ideas go a long way toward the inclusion of ‘the stranger’ and help to counter Israel’s current stance of classifying non-Jewish asylum seekers as ‘infiltrators, posing a danger to the Jewish character of Israel.’[xiv]


There Is Hope for the Future and an Invitation to Get Involved

‘Closed borders are one of the world’s greatest moral failings, but the opening of borders is the world’s greatest economic opportunity.’

—Alex Tabarrok[xv]

There are several ways to assist in decreasing social exclusion with the hope of eliminating it. One argument for open borders is that it is economically beneficial because new immigrants often either possess talent and skills sought after by the host country or are willing to take on work that citizens are no longer interested in doing. Open borders are also morally just since freedom of movement is a fundamental human right.[xvi] Existing efforts to help migrants and asylum seekers in different parts of the world range from a mission of love to direct action. For example, Border Angels, an organization whose motto is ‘love has no borders,’ promotes a culture of love in their activism to defend the rights of migrants and refugees.[xvii] Also, activists in Poland have used brute force to remove a barbed-wire border fence constructed by the Polish government to prevent migrants from crossing into Poland from Belarus.[xviii]

There are many ways to get involved and make a difference. Support of existing organizations and movements is one way, and many are active on social media and can be found with careful research. But new ideas to help in the efforts toward decreasing marginalization and social exclusion are needed. No act of help goes wasted. It can all be used for the good. Begin where you are.



[I].     Noga Tarnopolsky. ‘Israel Built a New Border Wall to Prevent Migrants from “Smuggling in Terror,”’ TheWorld, December 5, 2013. https://theworld.org/stories/2013-12-05/israel-built-new-border-wall-prevent-migrants-smuggling-terror.

[i].     Bina Engineering&Management Ltd. ‘Israel-Egypt Barrier Project,’ 2016. https://www.binagroup.co.il/israel-egypt-barrier-project.

[ii].    ‘Sudan-Israel Deal Fuels Migrants’ Fears,’ BBC News, 21 December 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55333131.

[iii].   Anke Hoeffler. ‘Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire? Migration from Fragile States to Fragile States.’ OECD Development Co-operation Working Papers, No. 9. Paris: OECD Publishing, 2013, p. 6. https://doi.org/10.1787/5k49dffmjpmv-en.

[iv].   Ibid, p. 4.

[v].    OECD, ILO, IOM, and UNHCR. 2020 Annual International Migration and Forced Displacement Trends and Policies Report to the G20. Paris: OECD Publishing, 2020. https://www.oecd.org/els/mig/FINAL-2020-OECD-ILO-UNHCR-IOM-G20-report.pdf.

[vi].   Hoeffler, p. 8.

[vii].  ‘Facts & Stats,’ Frontline World, undated. https://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/sudan/facts.html.

[viii]. Hilary Silver. ‘The Process of Social Exclusion: The Dynamics of an Evolving Concept.’ London: Chronic Poverty Research Center, 1 October 2007, p. i. https://ssrn.com/abstract=1087789 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1087789.

[ix].   William T. Cavanaugh. ‘The Invention of Fanaticism,’ in Faith, Rationality and the Passions, by Sarah Coakley. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2012, p. 33.

[x].    Ibid, p. 29.

[xi].   Elie Wiesel. The Gates of the Forest. New York: Schocken Books, 1996.

[xii].  ‘Sanctuary: Mental Health Ministries.’ Sarah Kift podcast, episode 1, with John Swinton, 30 January 2020. https://www.sanctuarymentalhealth.org/2020/01/29/john-swinton/.

[xiii]. Ibid.

[xiv]. Dina Kraft and Sara Miller Llana. ‘Denied Asylum in Israel, Eritreans Are Welcomed by Canadian Jews.’ The Christian Science Monitor, 21 January 2022. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/2022/0121/Denied-asylum-in-Israel-Eritreans-are-welcomed-by-Canadian-Jews.

[xv].  Alex Tabarrok. ‘The Case for Getting Rid of Borders—Completely,’ The Atlantic, 10 October 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/10/get-rid-borders-completely/409501/.

[xvi]. Ibid.

[xvii].                  Border Angels website. https://www.borderangels.org/.

[xviii].                 Daniel Tilles. ‘Activists Detained in Poland for Trying to Remove Fence on Belarus Border Amid Migrant Surge,’ Notes from Poland, 30 August 2021. https://notesfrompoland.com/2021/08/30/activists-detained-in-poland-for-trying-to-remove-fence-on-belarus-border-amid-migrant-surge/.

Gender Disparities in Informal Cross-border Trading in Southern Africa

WRITTEN BY Pemphero Banda


Despite ICBT enabling small‐scale entrepreneurs to escape poverty and meet the education, housing, and other basic needs, it continues to be an agent for the exclusion of women in major cross-border locations within the southern Africa development community (SADC) where women account for a high percentage of informal traders[1].


How does the physical border exclude both men and women?  

With estimates suggesting that more than 95 percent of the trade activities in Africa are undertaken through unofficial trading systems like ICBT[2], these unofficial systems expose both genders to exclusion from fully enjoying the benefits of the sector. With payments of unofficial fees at the physical borders being expected of every informal trader, with little to no access to information many traders end up paying more at the request of corrupt officials which in the end heavily impacts how much profit they make.


How the physical border fuels the exclusion of women in the ICBT sector

Despite this physical border and ICBT excluding both genders, it is also seen to create a conducive environment where the ideological border between men and women is thriving. There is a visible difference in the treatment of women in relation to their male counterparts which reveals how socially excluded women are in this industry. Unlike male traders, women involved in the informal cross-border trade, are heavily exposed to unduly exploitation and this discourages some to participate in the sector fully and freely. Women are stopped for check-in numerous times before reaching their markets and are further intimidated to pay trade taxes for their goods, systems that were previously abolished. Outside of the physical border, like in Zimbabwe and Malawi, statistics show that there are more women in the informal trade sector in South Africa than men, however, the South African Informal Traders Association said while this was true, components of the trade were still controlled by men[3].


Women continue to find themselves at the mercy of their male counterparts. Instances are present where women have no choice but to use another man to either collect their merchandise or negotiate deals with officials simply because they are considered as not being qualified and capable enough to handle such situations.


Moving forward

Seeing how informal Cross Border Trade employs almost 20 to 75 percent of the labor force in most African countries it is safe to say that the industry has important implications for employment and income generation for traders. It can therefore be a good idea to acknowledge and then address all the gender-specific constraints being faced by women in the sector. However, if we do not draw our focus to the ramifications of the trade and its daily operational systems, many women will continue being taken advantage of and excluded from fully and freely participating in the trade and the economic growth of their families and consequently their countries[4].


Many non-governmental organizations in Africa are taking up the task of putting measures to help end the financial exclusion of African women by empowering them to take up a trade and other domestic financial activities. African women engaging in informal and small-scale cross-border trade stand to benefit from policy suggestions emanating from organizations like UNCTAD’s Borderline project. “Borderline” project equips women with information on trade procedures, helping them reduce business costs and expand their opportunities[5].



  1. Women in informal cross-border trade in sub-Saharan Africa: an untapped potential to feed, integrate and industrialize Africa. 29 May 2019. African Development bank group.
  2. Panavello, S. (2010). Working across borders- harnessing the potential of cross-border activities to improve livelihood security in the horn of Africa drylands. HPG policy brief 41. ODI: London.
  3. Kubheka, A. ‘Are there women in the informal trade sector.’ Daily News. August 15, 2018.
  4. Njiwa, D. (2010) Informal cross-border trade challenges and opportunities: A case of COMESA and its STR implementing borders.
  5. Informal cross-border trade for empowerment of women, economic development and regional integration in Eastern and Southern Africa | UNCTAD

Informal Cross-border Trading in Southern Africa

WRITTEN BY Pemphero Banda


Informal cross-border trading commonly known as ICBT is a trade between neighboring countries, usually informal and typically conducted by vulnerable, unregistered, unqualified traders who deal with a diverse yet small stock of merchandise[1]. Many African countries have seen the growth of ICBT in the last 2 decades. Over the years, this trade has proven to be a vital source of employment and livelihood for low-income and low-skilled individuals, in border districts as estimates suggest that more than 95 percent of the trade activities in Africa are undertaken through such unofficial trading systems as ICBT[2].


Some of the factors that motivate both men and women to join informal cross-border trading include but are not limited to economic constraints and unemployment. It has been shown that many people opt to join the trade because it does not require huge capital upfront. Traders are able to access the capital through their own personal savings, or funds borrowed from close family or friends[3]. However, I will be naive If I do not acknowledge how the absence of registration of ICBT removes the opportunity for those involved in the trade to access loans from banks and other financial institutions to help boost their business.


Over the years, we have witnessed the importance of ICBT for both individuals, their communities, and governments. The first is that the traders provide consumers with cheaper alternatives to products found in the local formal market. Secondly, ICBT traders are heavily contributing to the economy of African countries in a number of ways namely:

  • ICBT traders use profits made from the trade to feed their families and educate their children, which would have been a struggle to achieve without their involvement in the industry.
  • ICBT traders contribute heavily to their country’s economy through job creation. In Zimbabwe, for instance, 37% of traders employ other people whose time they compensate for.
  • Since ICBT traders must travel to their neighboring countries, commonly using road channels, they help transport companies/ bus companies make money through their travels.
  • ICBT traders contribute to their economy through Value added tax (VAT) that they are expected to pay on every item they purchase for resale[4].


It brings so much hope to see the significance of informal cross-border trade for a nation’s food security, poverty alleviation, employment, and income creation for rural populations who would otherwise suffer from financial social exclusion. For an industry that has such an impact, it is imperative that we take time to understand the tenets of the trade to make sure that everyone capable of contributing to the industry should freely participate in it.



  1. Minde,J & Nankhumwa, T, (1998). Unrecorded cross-border trade between Malawi and neighbouring countries. AMEX International, Inc.
  2. Pavanello, S. (2010). Working across borders- harnessing the potential of cross-border Activities to improve livelihood security in the horn of Africa drylands. HPG Policy Brief 41. ODI: London
  3. Crush, J. (2017). Informal entrepreneurship and cross-border trade between Zimbabwe and South Africa. SAMP migration policy series No. 74
  4. Ibid

Finland’s self-governing autonomies and the connection to the land

WRITTEN BY Emilia Liesmäki


Non-affirmed relationships as a barrier to identity

This blog picks up where the previous blog left off, the importance of decision-making power, how much of it there is or has been, and its role in shaping the social identity of a minority group.


The Finnish state can be blamed because Sámi’s sense of sameness has not been able to develop in the same way as one of the self-governing provinces of the Åland Islands. This is the result of a long history. Suvi Keskinen has studied the involvement of the Finns and Finland in colonial/racial histories, which she notices to have been connected to the modern state- and nation-building processes, which created “Others” of the indigenous and minority populations, who were perceived as biologically and/or culturally inferior. Consequently, the colonization of Sámi lands, discourses of racial/cultural Otherness, and strong assimilation policies have been the silenced underside of the modernization process in Finland. [1] This blog focuses on the assumed consequences of cutting Sámi’s relationship to their lands not only concretely but also metaphorically and thus psychologically. Rauna Kuokkanen clarifies the worldview of the Sámi and explains that traditional Sami perception of the world postulates that the land is a physical and spiritual entity. More closely, as human survival depends on the balance and renewal of the land, the central principles in this understanding are sustainable use of and respect for the land and láhi, the earth’s abundance given to human beings if the relationships are well maintained. [2] In the year 2021, Finland has still not ratified the international ILO convention affirming the rights of the Sámi. The state’s actions irreversibly destroyed Sámi culture, and the state has still not been able to take responsibility for its human rights violations and other injustices. Sadly, the destructive spirit continues as Finland’s current Sámi policy systematically restricts the practice of traditional Sámi livelihoods, such as reindeer husbandry and fishing. [3] If we think of this from the geographical perspective to social exclusion, it is good to understand that even if Finland ratified ILO Convention 169, the state would not hand over land to the Sámi. However, the Sámi would have decision-making power, which would be reasonable. [4] Decision-making power could, however, contribute to the integrity of the Sámi social identity. Tiina Sanila-Aikio notes that the link with her people, culture, and language environment is practically being severed in their lifetime in Finland, which is by many standards one of the richest and best countries in the world. The Sámi live still today with a concern for the future. Moreover, in sparsely populated areas, the service system is also fragile, for example, related to mental health services. [5] It can be considered that the Sámi issues have reached an impasse. Until the ILO Convention is finally ratified, there will be a minor change in the autonomy of the Sámi and thus no development of social identity in the desired way. Toivanen quotes Bud Khleif to introduce the concept of “minoritised”, which he uses to illustrate that no one chooses to have less power. Here, nobody wants to belong to a minority if there are chances to have a position with more power. [6]  This leads us to ask who is responsible for making someone a minority. In the case of the Sámi, The Finnish state has to ensure that its minorities have equal possibilities to strengthen their social identity.


Full sail ahead – social identity further strengthens the autonomy.

Åland tourism company sells Åland with the phrase “Experience the Sea like an Ålander, with a guide who knows the local waters and can tell you about fishing, the sea and its importance in Åland.”[7] BBC, in turn, describes the autonomy as follows “Surrounded by sea and forest, the 6,700 islands of Åland are idyllic, but Åland’s peacefulness runs deeper than its setting.” Both above establish the ground for the identity of the Ålanders, which is strongly linked to the land already by location. As noted in the first blog, the location and the successful autonomy model have made the Åland Islands an example of a potential solution to the conflict, but this has required the Ålanders to be flexible. In the BBC article, Ålandic perspectives were brought to the fore through interviews. In one of them, it is noticed that the Islanders must accept the duality of needing a measure of self-sufficiency while also being dependent on the lands surrounding them, which makes them more ready to accept compromise. In relation to the sea, another interview pointed out that there is found a certain amount of accountability in Åland that encourages positive social behavior, especially related to climate change and preserving nature. [8] Therefore, the Ålander’s deep relationship with the land further strengthens their social identity. They do not have to recall against the state for their rights related to the land, but, as a united group, focus on protecting the land and that it remains just as important for future generations. Also, the territory and the unique situation have brought prosperity to Åland. In the past, Åland was a poor region, but shipping has provided livelihood and economic benefits for its inhabitants. [9]  In contrast to the Sámi, all the above has undoubtedly only strengthened the social identity of the Ålanders as a minority group. The shaping of Ålanders identity is described in Julia Koivus’s thesis that relates to an individual’s identity that is strongly related to the surrounding culture. Identity means identification with the surrounding culture and its traditions. The influence of the surrounding culture on the individual’s identity can be considered particularly strong in a small island community like Åland. The population is small, which means that people often know each other in Åland. The island community is close to the water, and nature is close to the sea. [10] If Åland were like any other Finnish province, it would not even have its hospital, just a health center. Åland has created its structures and solutions to maintain its level of service. [9]


The blog shows that functional autonomy in Åland has succeeded in uniting its inhabitants as a minority. Ålanders have sufficient decision-making power and as seen above, strong self-government is actually a significant part of their identity. On the other hand, it can be noted that the social identity of the Sámi will not be able to improve if they remain “minoritised”. Inequality will persist and a sense of belonging will not flourish as long as the Sámi are forced to remind of their rights. In analyzing autonomous regions, it is important to identify what kind of self-governance is at stake, given the multiple aspects of social exclusion.


For those more interested, I recommend reading Markku Suksi’s extensive research on autonomy arrangements in the world.



[1] Keskinen, S. (2019). Intra-Nordic Differences, Colonial/Racial Histories, and National Narratives: Rewriting Finnish History. Scandinavian studies, 91(12), 163-181.

[2] Kuokkanen, R. (2005). Láhi and Attáldat: The Philosophy of the Gift and Sami Education. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 34, 20-32. doi:10.1017/S1326011100003938

[3] Mariya Riekkinen and Markku Suksi, “The Sámi Assembly in Finland”, Online Compendium Autonomy Arrangements in the World, November 2019, at www.worldautonomies.info.​

[4] (8.2.2017.) Suomen on aika turvata saamelaisten oikeudet. Helsingin Sanomat.

[5] Leino, P. and Varis, N. (9.11.2019.) Miksi saamelaiset aina valittaa? Yle uutiset.

[6] Lyytinen, J. (23.6.2021.) Å luokan kysymys. Helsingin Sanomat.

[7] Ålandsresor.

[8] Gardiner, K. (29.6.2021.) Surrounded by sea and forest, the 6,700 islands of Åland are idyllic, but Åland’s peacefulness runs deeper than its setting. BBC.

[9] Aitomurto, T. (5.2.2019.) Suomalaiset tietävät liian vähän saamelaisista. Helsingin Sanomat.

[10] Koivu, J. (2014.) (Svensk är jag inte, finska kan jag inte tala – så låt mig vara ålänning : en enkätstudie om åländska ungdomars identitet. Kanditaatin tutkielma. Jyväskylän Yliopisto.




Finland’s self-governing autonomies and unequal possibilities for social identity-forming

WRITTEN BY Emilia Liesmäki


A Comparative study on the two autonomies

This blog describes the differences between the two self-governments in Finland. From the context of social exclusion, this blog, together with my next blog, aims to raise awareness of the unequal possibilities for social identity forming within these autonomies by examining the decision-making power of the autonomies and their relationship to their land.


The first blog explores the disparity between Finland’s two autonomies, geographically and related to their status as a minority group in Finland. It can be viewed that autonomy has been more favorable to the other, especially thinking of the relationship to their language. The second blog looks at these self-governments from the perspective of the inhabitants’ relationship with the land and its meaning to their social identity. The residents’ contact with the land can be seen as linked to decision-making power and, therefore, a critical factor in forming social identity in these self-governments.


As a mainland Finn who has moved to Åland, my position has provided an excellent vantage point for observing the local culture from the outside. The move has also made me a representative of the Finnish-speaking minority in Åland, which has broadened my understanding of the experiences of Swedish-speaking Finns. In my studies on social exclusion, I have already had time to study the Sámi people in several courses. I am particularly interested in access to mental health care for minority groups that could consider their linguistic and cultural background. These comparative blogs bring a geographical and autonomy-related perspective to the subject if I continue to explore the topic later.


Even if the closest comparable international examples to Åland are the Danish autonomous regions of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the following blogs will discuss and compare Finland’s autonomies to bring light to the internal inequalities still existing in Finland. By identifying the dissimilarities, I wish to contribute to the social exclusion research in Finland. After all, Finland is perceived as a model country for democracy and human rights, as Tanja Aitomurto puts it. [1]


Characteristics of the autonomies and factors affecting social identity

The characteristics of Finland’s autonomies can contribute to a sense of belonging among their inhabitants and thus to a stronger sense of social identity. Finland has two different types of non-territorial self-government arrangements, acknowledged differently in structure and scope, aiming to promote the identity of two distinct minority groups: the cultural autonomy for the Sámi and the functional autonomy for Swedish speakers. [2] The self-governing province of the Åland Islands is located on the southwest coast of Finland. Åland is a demilitarized and unilingual Swedish-speaking region of Finland with over 30,000. [3] Although Swedish speakers in Finland are not considered a minority in the constitutional sense, speakers of one of the two national languages, Swedish speakers are a minority from the perspective of international human rights law. [4] This allows me to study these groups from the social exclusion perspective as minority groups and not only as autonomies of Finland. Instead, the Finnish Sámi are an officially recognized minority of Finland, the only indigenous people in the European Union. The status of the Sámi was enshrined in the Constitution in 1995. The Sámi have the right to maintain and develop their language, culture, and traditional livelihoods. There are about 10 000 Sámi in Finland. The Sámi do not share a common language because nine Sámi languages are spoken in their traditional homelands in Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. [5] Sámi land can be defined as the area where there are Sámi, Sámi culture, and Sami-speaking people. Traditionally, this area stretches from central Norway and Sweden across Finnish Lapland to the Kola Peninsula.


Factors influencing social identity

Since the two autonomies have different dimensions, it is considered that both are surrounded by an invisible border, which in one case limits and the other reinforces the social identity formation of its inhabitants. The central idea of the social identity theory is that our identity is not only personal but also social based on our group memberships. The distinction between inner and outer groups is crucial for structuring the social world. Humans have a natural tendency to classify groups. We also tend to see our group positively, which is a very natural idea. When we identify, we produce our identity, and when we identify with a group, we value our group and our identity by comparing it to other groups.[6]  In the example of Åland, because the sea is between the land and the continent, there is almost a concrete frontier from Finland that has made Åland prosper. Whereas in the case of the Sámi, it is almost forgotten that the Sámi inhabited Fennoscandia before the Finns. [3] This imaginary border unravels the process of social identity formation. Considering language, for example, the Sámi were limited to using their language due to assimilationist policies in Finland from the mid-19th century until the 1980s. [3]  Signifying that The Sámi has not had time to develop their relationship with their language and identity for very long. While in Åland, Swedish has had a unilingual position since independence, so there is no requirement to offer services in any other language, either in Finnish. This is of great importance in terms of services, especially social- and health services. In Finland, mental health services are almost impossible for Sámi speakers. Statistics prove that many Sámi is even at the risk of death. One reason may be that help is not easily accessible, especially in the Sámi language or based on Sámi culture. The Finnish Arctic rail project is another example that shows that the Sámi issues are still marginalized. The Sámi were not consulted during the start-up phase by the Sámi Parliament. [7] This would suggest that Finland still maintains exclusionary politics. Retta Toivanen clarifies that state regulation of reindeer herding, fishing, and other activities that are part of the traditional way of life of the Sámi can also be viewed as a bit of interference in Sámi affairs. It could be seen as exclusion “through law and order, whether it is laws regulating reindeer husbandry, fishing or education”, but also as exclusion “in the social-psychological field of creating ‘the other’ against which Finnish identity could be built”. [8]


As for comparison, a recent article notices that the self-government has allowed Åland to flourish; it has let Åland develop in peace on its terms. Furthermore, Ålands autonomy acts as a framework to activate and mobilize residents and create new cooperation and organization forms. The autonomy that has existed since 1920/1922 has its law-making powers. [1] In 2019, the healthiest Finns lived in Åland and the coastal municipalities of Western and Southern Finland. [9] Additionally, the unemployment rate in Åland is usually around 2-4%, so the lowest in Finland has risen during the pandemic. [10] The stable position that the self-government has managed to create has undoubtedly impacted the social identity of the people. In extensive reportage on Åland by Helsingin Sanomat is noted that in a hundred years, the Ålanders have developed a solid and distinctive identity. “We are first and foremost Ålanders.” Says Mats Adamczak in the report. [11] Åland has also attracted attention with its successful autonomy model, which protects the minority. Politicians, reporters, and researchers have studied Åland’s autonomy as a potential solution even to conflicts. “Many of the armed conflicts currently underway around the globe are internal struggles in countries with some minority issue. – -. Looking for alternatives to nation-building, countries turn their eyes towards Åland, whose autonomy is perceived as a compromise between independence and total integration.” [9]


Decision-making power affects

I see that the Ålanders, as a minority, have not suffered from the feeling of alienation in Finland to the same extent as the Sami. The conditions have been favorable for Ålander’s social identity to be formed into a cohesive unit. They have not had to constantly expend energy defending their rights as a minority, such as getting services in their language. From the relational perspective to social exclusion, social reality results from an unequal balance of power between social groups, nation-states, and global regions, contributing to unequal goods and services. [12] Connected to this, power is viewed here as tied to Åland’s capacity to develop itself as autonomy. On the opposite, the Sámis has not had such power within its cultural autonomy because states’ ultimate decision-making limits it. Suksi notes that the Sámi Assembly has no law-making powers and almost no administrative powers.[5] According to Toivanen, those excluded from a national identity-building process and bestowed a position of being the ‘other’ in the setting of a generally accepted national unity constitute the segment called minorities. There are different kinds of minorities, and their relationship to the segment deemed the majority varies: whereas some are closer to power, others are heavily marginalized. Thus, power relations prevent each other from realizing themselves in the same way. [11]


Although this is a comparative study, we are beginning to see that these minorities also have something in common – namely, a connection to the land, which can be observed to mirror the development of the social identity of these self-governments. The following blog will discuss this in more detail.



[1] Aitomurto, T. (5.2.2019.) Suomalaiset tietävät liian vähän saamelaisista. Helsingin Sanomat.

[2] Mariya Riekkinen and Markku Suksi, “The Sámi Assembly in Finland”, Online Compendium Autonomy Arrangements in the World, November 2019, at www.worldautonomies.info.​

[3] Ministry For Foreign Affairs of Finland.

[4] Suksi, M. (2008). Functional Autonomy: The Case of Finland with Some Notes on the Basis of International Human Rights Law and Comparisons with Other Cases. International Journal on Minority & Group Rights, 15(2/3), 195–225. https://doi-org.ezproxy.vasa.abo.fi/10.1163/157181108X332604

[5] The Sámi Parliament.

[6] Matikainen, J. (2020.) Sosiaalisen identiteetin näkökulma vuorovaikutukseen. Keynote-puheenvuoro Vuorovaikutuksen tutkimuksen päivillä 18.–19.9.2020.

[7] Mikkonen, N. (25.8.2017.) Mielenterveydestä puhuminen on Suomen saamelaisille usein mahdottomuus – “Moni kokee olonsa nurkkaan ajetuksi”. Yle uutiset.

[8] Toivanen, R J 2015 , From Ignorance to Effective Inclusion: The Role of National Minorities within the Finnish Consensus Culture . in P A Kraus & P Kivisto (eds) , The Challenge of Minority Integration : Politics and Policies in the Nordic Nations . , 7 ,

[9] STT. (27.6.2019.) Kuntien väliset erot sairastavuudessa kärjistyvät – terveimmät asuvat Ahvenanmaalla.

[10] Andersson, H. (20.8.2021.) Ahvenanmaa – erilainen satavuotias. Tilastokeskus.

[11] Lyytinen, J. (23.6.2021.) Å luokan kysymys. Helsingin Sanomat.

[12] Mathieson, J., Popay, J., Enoch, E., Escorel, S., Hernandez, M., Johnston, H., & Rispel, L. (2008). Social Exclusion and Health Inequalities. In Social Exclusion: Meaning, Measurement and Experience, and Links to 6. The impact of social exclusion 40 Health


Israel – Explore the Holy Land! – Part 2

WRITTEN BY Linda Sundqvist


Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic and technological centre situated on the Mediterranean coastline, emerges as the world’s costliest city to live in (according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living index of 2021). Meanwhile, the Gaza strip is still densely populated and impoverished with a rapidly increasing population (the area’s growth rate is one of the highest globally).[1] We hear so much good about Tel Aviv and so much wrong about Gaza, yet we are supposed to consider these two to be a part of the same country.


Personally, I have never visited the area. From the few Jews in my life, I have heard mostly good about Israel, a country they have visited quite extensively. That which made me look into this status quo was an introductive course in public international law, which only briefly mentioned Palestine-Israel, but changed my view of the situation quite a lot. You see, the picture I had of the area differs a lot from what I heard on the course, and so I felt like I had to open my gullible eyes.


In May 2021, another wave of violence flooded the Gaza strip with rockets and other artillery being fired on both sides – Gaza and Israel. The violence between Gaza and Israel is one you do not hear as much about these days, or you simply hear too much and do not really know what it is about. The United Nations said that they fear a “full-scale war” breaking out between Gaza and Israel if the tension keeps building up the way it has in recent years.


According to the United Nations, Gaza has been a part of Israel since 1967, even though Israel withdrew its military and all its settlers from the area back in 2005. In 2007 the militant Islamist group Hamsa came to control Gaza after ejecting all forces loyal to the then governing Palestinian Authority (PA). Now I do not know about you guys, but personally, when I think of Israel, the first city to come to mind would be the previously mentioned Tel Aviv. At first glance, I could not fathom that Tel Aviv is situated in “the same country” as Gaza, the home to about two million people, being only 41 km long and 10 km wide.


Gaza an area badly overcrowded with homes too damaged to live in. The place where power cuts are an everyday occurrence. Before last May, Gaza was receiving power on 8-hour rotations – this has now been cut down to 3-4 hours a day due to the power lines being damaged in the fighting. According to the UN, about 80% of the population of Gaza depends on international aid, and about one million people rely on daily food aid. Gaza is surrounded by no-go border areas and blockades at the crossings being imposed by Israel have gravely restricted their ability to trade. Their ability to move in or out of the area, as well as aid convoys not getting through, has also made the quality of life significantly worse.


Almost 65% of Gaza’s population is under the age of 25, and with youth unemployment running at 70%, the lives of the people in the Gaza strip are short, and lacking good health[4]. They cannot move freely or safely due to the surrounding border and the imminent armed conflict. Feeling attachment to one’s surroundings or planning one’s life is hard with the uncertainty of what is yet to come. Through the living standards in which these people live, it is clear that their identities and values as human beings are not being seen as legitimate or respected. Being deprived of these capabilities, let alone all enable one to thrive in the categories relevant to social exclusion: the economic, social, political, and cultural aspects of society.[5]


I hope I have shown that this situation is very much non Liquet; this is a conflict that simple legal terms cannot resolve. This conflict has been going on for decades, and there is no simple answer to it, even though efforts have been made previously. The ones suffering the most are the civilians. The civilians living in the Gaza strip are cut off from the rest of Israel by a border that excludes them even further from society. There is no one systematic institution behind social exclusion. Still, when it comes to Gaza and the Palestine-Israel borders, it feels like all aspects of social exclusion (and more) have been at play, excluding the people in Gaza from society.



[1] https://www.britannica.com/place/Gaza-Strip

[2] Picture showing Palestine-Israel, the red area being Gaza. Gaza Strip region, credits for original to NordNordWest, credits for retouched picture to ויקיג’אנקי, CC BY-SA 3.0:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WV_Gaza_Strip_region.png

[3] Destruction of Gaza, credits to author gloucester2gaza, CC BY-SA 2.0: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Destruction_of_Gaza_1.jpg

[4] Israel-Palestinian conflict: Life in the Gaza Strip (2021) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-20415675

[5] The Normative theory of social exclusion: perspective from political philosophy (2013) Zuzana Palovicova https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298415307_Social_Exclusion_from_the_Perspective_of_Normative_Theory

Israel – Explore the Holy Land!

WRITTEN BY Linda Sundqvist


So, I started my journey with this blog post by googling, of course, and to my surprise, this headline was the first thing to pop up on my screen. This was the slogan for a site called the world Jewish travels, suggesting the ten places I need to visit when exploring Israel – the Holy Land.[1] This list, of course, included places like Jerusalem, “the world-known historical epicentre”, and the oh-so-trendy Tel Aviv “, the vegan capital of the world”[2]. Now, these places in central Israel are beautiful, so beautiful that I almost got lost in my travel fever, forgetting what I was trying to research.


This was worrisome. You see, I am white and from Finland, which means I am privileged and have never witnessed anyone living in the circumstances like the ones in Palestine-Israel. The only way for me to get information about something happening outside of Europe is by searching for it. So, for me to actively be searching for information about what is happening only to find some travel agency really puts the problem into perspective.


There is an ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel; this much I feel you could call common knowledge. Now what that conflict is about and why it seems it cannot be resolved takes a lot more than a few hours on google. To understand why the situation is so dire in Palestine-Israel, one must first know how these arrangements came to be and why these two states are clumped into one name in the first place. Another thing one must become familiar with is social exclusion. You see, social exclusion describes a situation where not everyone has equal access to the opportunities and services that would allow them to lead a decent, happy life, which is the case in Palestine-Israel[3].


Looking into the history of this conflict, one could go back as far as time. Where you start telling the story also really matters. For the sake of this post, I feel like we could start about 100 years ago with the fall of the Ottoman Empire in WWI, leaving Britain to take control of the Palestine area. Back then, Palestine had a majority of Arabs and a minority of Jews. This came to change with growing tension when Britain was “tasked” (I find this an ironic choice of words) by Europe (no surprise there) to establish a national home for Jewish people.[4]


Approximate image. Not official. CC[5]


The years after WWI had European Jews leaving Europe seeking a home in Palestine, culminating in a flood of Jewish refugees fleeing the horrors of WWII. For these people to go through all they did to find a new home where they could live in peace sounds like a silver lining to sorrows. What that point of view on this story forgets though is that there already were people with their own culture living there. As expected, this British “task” backfired, and when this Europe-induced mess got even bigger, Britain backed out and left the people in Palestine to their own devices.


After this, we have numerous other states getting into this conflict, thinking they would know how to fix centuries of sorrow or just wanting to take advantage of a shattered country to expand their own. The country’s civilian people are refugees or caught in the middle of it all. They are left without a home, without peace, which is what they were seeking in the first place. Today the whole area previously known as Palestine is officially Israel, according to the UN.[6] The irony of it all is that Europe appointed the area as a home for the Jews they were persecuting, only for the Arabs living there to then be persecuted.


Social exclusion is a relatively new theory on a multidimensional phenomenon. It is a process as well as a state in which individuals are unable to fully participate in different societal aspects of life, like economic, social, political, and cultural. Participation might be hindered by a lack of material and resources like education or income. Social exclusion can also result from alienation and oppression, when an individual cannot exercise their voice or when their rights and dignity are not respected and protected in the way that they should be.[7]


The Palestinian people are clumped into the West Bank and the Gaza strip, which are the only areas still referred to as Palestine. They are being separated from the rest of Israel by hard, physical borders that are not easily passed. They do not have the same health care, education, or economic resources. A lot of the resources they had have been taken away because of the borders, making trading almost impossible. The lack of education and integration into the rest of society leaves them without any of the necessary tools to get out of the deprived life induced by social exclusion.


As I am sure, you have noticed, something is very wrong with the status quo in Palestine-Israel. In no way do I feel it would be of any use pointing fingers and playing the blame game, discussing who did what to whom, and so on. I feel like we need to focus on the situation at hand and the people suffering. No people in Palestine-Israel are strangers to suffering. Still, with this post, I would like to point out that borders, disdain, and deprivation socially exclude Palestine’s people. They are being excluded from a society on the verge of flourishing where exclusion serves no other purpose than that of hate.



[1] https://www.worldjewishtravel.org/virtual-tours?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=CPC&utm_campaign=Virtual-Tours-Israel&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=10526386025&utm_content=104436524112&utm_term=israel%20tourism&gclid=Cj0KCQiAu62QBhC7ARIsALXijXTWphCrrubd34seJOlSS1PKKGErLlBEUTxpuyBnOdiBWRTZaGtIINoaAolgEALw_wcB

[2] https://curlytales.com/israels-tel-aviv-becomes-vegan-capital-of-the-world/

[3] https://www.liberties.eu/en/stories/social-exclusion/43579

[4] https://www.britannica.com/place/Palestine

[5] Palestine loss of land, Credits to Noorrovers, CC BY-SA 4.0: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palestinian-loss-of-land-1946-2010.jpg

[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-44124396

[7] https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/rwss/2016/chapter1.pdf

Is Puerto Rican Emigration an Issue of Fragility or Exclusion?

Written by Sandis Sitton


In my last blog, I discussed how the border of Puerto Rico can be understood as an institutional tool that transfers various kinds of power over the lands of the territory to those in the mainland United States and how inclusion in the United States under those conditions means exclusion for local Puerto Ricans from other institutions of power which other states are guaranteed under the Constitution. This time, I’d like to look at how migration off the islands and into the United States is motivated not just by local conditions but also by exclusionary policies like those already explored, which obstruct locals from political power and their local markets and economic policy as well.


Is Puerto Rico a Fragile State?

One reason migrants will often travel to a country is to improve on their material conditions, find work, and/or transition out of areas of hardship or shortage1. This is undoubtedly a component of Puerto Ricans’ reasons for migrating to the mainland states. The islands in 2017 suffered immense devastation at the hands of two subsequent hurricanes, leading to lives lost in the thousands and catastrophic infrastructural damage, conditions which were directly credited for the emigration of over 200,000 locals to the mainland states2.  These situations certainly contribute to the fragility of the state, a known motivator for emigration to places of greater stability3.

States can be called fragile for several reasons. They can lack the full capacity to govern their populations and territory or cannot provide security and economic opportunity4. However, the economic, environmental, and political conditions in Puerto Rico prompt migration to the mainland states do not extend to everyone involved. For some, the fragility of Puerto Rico is not a reason for emigration, but immigration, as attempts to rebuild it, has instead created a new opportunity. In this space where there is an opportunity for some but continued fragility for others, we find new processes of exclusion unfolding in the territory.


Fragility for Some, Opportunities for Others

While conditions for the locals have indeed been difficult, especially in comparison to the rest of the U.S., that is not to say there are no opportunities there at all, only that there are none for them. The main island of Puerto Rico has, in recent years, seen massive growth in its housing market. Thousands of mainland Americans have moved or applied to move their place of residence to the commonwealth because of policies made by the local government to attract outside investment5. For example, policies like Act 60 create tax breaks for people moving to the island as a way to revitalize the local housing market. Still, the tax breaks offered to newcomers are unavailable to those who already live there6. This has been something of a success; in 2021, house sales rose 84% from the previous years7. At the same time, however, new housing construction has remained stagnant or even fallen8. Because of this, locals, 43% of whom live under the federal poverty level are being priced out of neighborhoods they could once afford to live in. Many have had to leave the island entirely, searching for work and affordable housing, while new investors buy and repurpose properties as vacation housing9. Some decry the often-wealthy newcomers as colonizers and say their country is being sold out from under them10.


Not Poverty, but Exclusion from Opportunity

These circumstances create a situation of exclusion for locals, whose towns are being invested in, while they are kept apart from the benefits of that growth. Exclusion often comes in situations wherein there are obstacles to upward mobility, which are not always direct or evident because their effects are only seen in overlapping structures and institutions11.

For this reason, it is not always solely an issue of poverty, or any such condition, even in cases where they do create significant problems12. Puerto Ricans who endured several natural disasters in succession, under an economy and government that were heavily restricted under restructuring plans, often had to pay for the reconstruction of their neighborhoods with their labor13. Sometimes they waited years, if not still to this day, for the government to step in and take on this burden for them14. Now, though, the territory is shifting to accommodate new markets, prices change, and the cost of living with it. Puerto Ricans are not only poor but excluded from the same policies that attract people to these markets; they are experiencing states of fragility that others are not.



1 Anke Hoeffler, “Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire? Migration from Fragile States to Fragile    States,” OECD Development Co-Operation Working Papers, (2013),        https://doi.org/10.1787/5k49dffmjpmv-en, 4.

2 Nicole Acevedo, “Puerto Rico Sees More Pain and Little Progress Three Years after Hurricane Maria,” NBCNews.com (NBCUniversal News Group, September 20, 2020), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/puerto-rico-sees-more-pain-little-progress-three-   years-after-n1240513.

3 Anke Hoeffler, (2013), 6.

4 Ibid.

5 Coral Murphy Marcos, Patricia Mazzei, and Erika P. Rodriguez, “The Rush for a Slice of          Paradise in Puerto Rico,” The New York Times (The New York Times, January 31,   2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/31/us/puerto-rico-gentrification.html.

6 Ibid.

7 Lelaine C Delmendo, “Puerto Rico’s Housing Market Gaining Momentum,” Global Property     Guide (Global Property Guide, October 16, 2021), https://www.globalpropertyguide.com/Caribbean/Puerto-Rico/Price-History.

8 Ibid.

9 Coral Murphy Marcos et al., (2022).

10 Ibid.

11 Andrew M. Fischer, “Reconceiving Social Exclusion,” BWPI Working Paper, no. 146 (April    2011), https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1805685, 23.

12 Ibid.

13 Nicole Acevedo, (2020).

14 Ibid.

How U.S. Border Policy Built Puerto Rico into “a State of Exclusion”

Written by Sandis Sitton


Borders are a complicated concept. What they are, how they look, are enforced, or what they have been called has changed throughout history1. Research has shown that even the conventional concepts of national borders resulted from very specific evolutions in notions of territoriality and the relationships between power, land, and people2. Today they are geographical and institutional together, inclusionary in one sense while necessarily exclusionary as a cost, and how changes depending on where these lines are drawn, how, and for whom.


Enter Puerto Rico, U.S. Territory

Image of an 1186 map of the main island of Puerto Rico and part of Vieques. Credit: G.W. & C.B. Colton & Co. (1886)


Under the control of the United States, Puerto Rico has been the center of several controversies involving the rights and powers of the locals there over Puerto Rico itself. These range from the decades-long military occupation of its islands, their exploitation and pollution, and the forced relocation of their inhabitants3, to the mitigation of its local government’s power to self-govern and direct seizure of its control over its own financial policies 4. All of this has happened under the facilitation of the very law of the land, the institutions and policies which define Puerto Rico as a place. Instrumental to this, of course, is the border.


What Kind of Border Does Puerto Rico Have?

The archipelago was first a colony under Spain following Columbus’ discovery of the Americas in 1492. They traded hands into the possession of the United States in 1898 due to the Spanish American War, at which time ownership of the land and the national status of its people was changed, and the border around it and its meaning changed with it.


Today Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory, one of five the United States owns, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas Islands, although it does have other territories without permanent populations and relationships with the Free Associated States which it does not directly govern5. However, Puerto Rico and the other unincorporated territories are still governed by the United States federal government above their own. Though like the Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico is also considered a Commonwealth, with its own constitution and elected local governments, the Puerto Rican government must still uphold the U.S Constitution as well as its own6.


This relationship originates back to the Jones Act of 1917, the first written legislation to define Puerto Rico’s involvement with the United States7. Under the act, Puerto Rico was defined as unincorporated, meaning not a part of the United States or, consequently, not represented in the U.S. Constitution8. This was allowed based on the reasoning in a 1900 Supreme Court case titled Downes v Bidwell, where the court determined that some territories could be incompatible with the U.S. Constitution, saying this:

“[For] possessions inhabited by alien races differing from [the people of United States] in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation, and modes of thought, the administration of government and justice according to Anglo-Saxon principles may for a time be impossible.”9

As such, the role and rights of citizens in Puerto Rico and why they are different from those in the states themselves are directly connected to the perception of difference, legally tied to the land of the territory itself.


What does this make Puerto Ricans?

Residents of Puerto Rico are still U.S. citizens and do have access to the other states, even to move there and integrate as any other citizens could. 5.83 million Puerto Ricans were estimated to live in the United States proper (the 50 states themselves), steadily rising10. Puerto Ricans living in the states have all the rights of other citizens; they can vote for federal representatives in the federal government, including the President, Senators, and members of the House of Representatives11. In this respect, Puerto Ricans are not excluded from the rights established in the Constitution because there are institutional obstacles that obstruct them from its guarantees12.


Locals still pay federal taxes like people of any of the states, though some do not need to pay income tax, and they are still subject to all federal laws and obligations, like military service in the form of the draft13. They still serve voluntarily in the military, like any other citizen of the United States, however, despite these similarities, they cannot vote in federal elections and have no voting representatives in Congress for long as they remain residents in Puerto Rico13. They bear the duties of full citizenship, but their membership is contingent on their place within its borders.


Puerto Ricans, then, are not Americans, not in all of the ways that matter. Because the land they live on is governed by different rules than the States, so are the people themselves. They may inhabit the islands, but they do not share equally in their ownership, their governance, or in the rewards to the society that does.


1 Brunet‐Jailly, E., 2009. The State of Borders and Borderlands Studies 2009: A Historical View and a View from the Journal of Borderlands Studies. Eurasia Border Review Part I < Current Trends in Border Analysis >.

2 Ibid.

3 Lawrence Wittner, “Breaking the Grip of Militarism: The Story of Vieques,” History News Network, February 28, 2019, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/171839.

4 Nick Brown, “Puerto Rico Authorizes Debt Payment Suspension; Obama Signs Rescue Bill,” Reuters (Thomson Reuters, June 30, 2016), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-puertorico-debt-idUSKCN0ZG09Y.

5 Francisco H. Vázquez, Latino/a Thought Culture, Politics, and Society (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), 374-375.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Henry Billings Brown and Supreme Court Of The United States. U.S. Reports: Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244. 1900. Periodical. https://www.loc.gov/item/usrep182244/, 287.

10 U.S. Census Bureau , “B03001 HISPANIC OR LATINO ORIGIN BY SPECIFIC ORIGIN,” United States Census Bureau (United States Census Bureau, 2019), https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=B03001%3A+HISPANIC+OR+LATINO+ORIGIN+BY+SPECIFIC+ORIGIN&tid=ACSDT1Y2019.B03001&hidePreview=true.

11 Tom C.W. Lin, “Americans, Almost and Forgotten,” California Law Review 107, no. 4 (August 2019), https://doi.org/https://www.californialawreview.org/print/americans-almost-and- forgotten/#:~:text=There%20are%20millions %20of %20Americans,and %20die%20defending%20our%20Constitution.

12 Andrew M. Fischer, “Reconceiving Social Exclusion,” BWPI Working Paper, no. 146 (April 2011), https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1805685, 17.

13 Tom C.W. Lin, 2019.

14 Ibid.