Right of asylum

The right of asylum (sometimes called right of political asylum; from Ancient Greek ἄσυλον (ásulon) 'sanctuary')[1][2] is an ancient juridical concept, under which people persecuted by their own rulers might be protected by another sovereign authority, like a second country or another entity which in medieval times could offer sanctuary. This right was recognized by the Ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Hebrews, from whom it was adopted into Western tradition. René Descartes fled to the Netherlands, Voltaire to England, and Thomas Hobbes to France, because each state offered protection to persecuted foreigners.

Asylum seekers by country of origin in 2009.
  40,000 asylum seekers
  30,000 asylum seekers
  20,000 asylum seekers
  10,000 asylum seekers
  <10,000 asylum seekers (or no data)
Remains of one of four medieval stone boundary markers for the sanctuary of Saint John of Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire
Sanctuary ring on a door of Notre-Dame de Paris (France)
Medieval boundary marker at St. Georgenberg, Tyrol
Plaque at St. Mary Magdalene Chapel, Dingli, Malta, indicating that the chapel did not enjoy ecclesiastical immunity

The Egyptians, Greeks and Hebrews recognized a religious "right of asylum", protecting people (including those accused of crime) from severe punishments. This principle was later adopted by the established Christian church, and various rules were developed that detailed how to qualify for protection and what degree of protection one would receive.[3]

The Council of Orleans decided in 511, in the presence of Clovis I, that asylum could be granted to anyone who took refuge in a church or on church property, or at the home of a bishop. This protection was extended to murderers, thieves and adulterers alike.

That "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution" is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and supported by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.[4] Under these agreements, a refugee is a person who is outside that person's own country's territory owing to fear of persecution on protected grounds, including race, caste, nationality, religion, political opinions and participation in any particular social group or social activities.


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