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What is an Enclave?

A section of a community that is primarily home to one ethnic group, like a Chinatown, might be called an enclave.
Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, is surrounded by the Italian city of Rome.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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In geography, an enclave is a country which is entirely enclosed by another nation. Most commonly, an enclave is also an exclave, meaning that it is actually the satellite of a larger mother state. Enclaves may be formed for a number of a reasons, but they often result in administrative and political issues, and attempts are frequently made to eliminate them. The term is also used to refer to a clustered religious or ethnic group within a larger one, as is the case with San Francisco's Chinatown.

The word comes from the Old French enclaver, which means “to enclose.” This word was derived from a Latin word, clavis, meaning “key.” Many enclaves were formed when official national boundaries were drawn, sometimes resulting in pockets of people of a different nationality trapped inside another country. This often led to political upheaval, as the people within the enclave could be cut off from their mother nation. In some cases, an enclave may be occupied by people with a different ethnic, religious, or political background from the surrounding country, which can lead to tensions.

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Two of the most well known examples of an enclave are Lesotho, which is enclosed within the boundaries of the Republic of South Africa, and Vatican City, an independent entity inside Italy. West Berlin is a historic example of an enclave, since it was located entirely within East Germany. West Berlin is an excellent illustration of the most common type of enclave, which usually consists of a small village or town of a separate nationality located inside another country.

In many former colonies, enclaves exist in large numbers. India, for example, has over 80 Bangladeshi enclaves within its border. Several islands are also enclaves, since they are surrounded by the territorial waters of another nation. Many of these island enclaves were seized for political or military advantage, and the occupying nation is reluctant to cede the land.

When an enclave is an exclave, agreements are usually reached between the mother nation and the country which surrounds the exclave. These agreements ensure that the citizens of the enclave are not entirely cut off, and typically include measures to protect airspace and the ability to pass freely between borders. In some cases, the citizens of an enclave may lobby to be absorbed into the surrounding nation, especially if the enclave is small, and residents have adopted the language and culture of their neighbors.

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Discuss this Article

anon119335
Post 2

No. San Marino is its own sovereign state. It is surrounded by Italy, just as much as Gambia may be surrounded by Senegal, or Lesotho by South Africa - but this condition does not detract from its own sovereign status.

anon70695
Post 1

is San Marino an enclave of Italy?

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