What is Political Asylum?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Political asylum is the right to seek shelter somewhere if one has a reasonable fear of persecution. It is an ancient concept, with civilizations like Greece and Rome both respecting the right to asylum and legislating it. Many countries offer asylum to people on an individual basis. Depending on a nation's laws, someone can apply for asylum in a number of different ways, and if the application is successful, that person may live and work in the host country.

Some political asylum seekers come from countries in South Asia, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Some political asylum seekers come from countries in South Asia, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In ancient times, criminals and people who were being persecuted could seek refuge in neighboring nations or designated sanctuaries. With the rise of the Christian church, many churches also became places of sanctuary for people seeking asylum. By law, people could not disturb asylum-seekers in a church, and churches were entitled to protect the people in their care. This concept persists in many nations, although some laws allow criminals to be apprehended when they seek refuge in a church, while true asylum-seekers are left alone.

In the past, asylum seekers would be safe and protected in a church.
In the past, asylum seekers would be safe and protected in a church.

Modern laws about the right to asylum generally grant it to people who fear persecution because of their race, nationality, origin, ethnicity, cultural or religious beliefs, or political activity. Some nations also grant it to people seeking protection from gender discrimination; for example, women in nations with Sharia law may seek asylum to avoid severe punishments for adultery. In the case of mass groups of refugees who are displaced, applications may be streamlined and fast tracked, as a courtesy.

Political asylum might be granted to war orphans.
Political asylum might be granted to war orphans.

Prevailing laws about political asylum vary, but as a general rule, someone must indicate that he or she wishes to seek asylum upon entering a country, although in some cases, an application may be filed later, as might be the case when someone travels on a routine trip and learns that it would be dangerous to return home. The application can include a wide range of supporting information, and people may have up to a year or more to gather the documents and support they need. If rejected, that applicant may be deported if he or she is in the country illegally, or may be asked to go through another application process to receive a resident alien card or extended visa.

Many countries around the world take the right to political asylum very seriously, and international organizations have spelled out rules and regulations in an attempt to keep asylum laws uniform. Many organizations will also help people who believe that they are entitled to the right to political asylum, offering legal assistance, housing and job placement, and assistance with filing for permanent residency or citizenship.

Priests may give asylum to people in need.
Priests may give asylum to people in need.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@anon230696: Argentina would most likely grant you asylum. They tend to grant Americans asylum for most any reason. Iran and Cuba would, also. France will too, but they sometimes will extradite you if the US really wants you.


I may be seeking political asylum from my country. I have been getting attacked from sniper gun fire, and I was electrocuted. I fear for my life. The death threats have increased for no reason, and no court, or no government process seems to be able to give me any options.

I'm not sure of the special rules you need to qualify to seek political asylum. It's hard. I actually love my country and did not expect to be in this situation.


I am an american citizen and would like to seek asylum in another country because I feel I will be persecuted in this country for my political opinions or activities against the government. Can you help americans who want the same protection against the american government? We offer asylum to people in other countries with a promise that their rights will be protected. What about ours as citizens already?


If a person has pending cases of corruption from his country, will he be able to apply for a political asylum?


The political asylum immigration process involves hiring an immigration lawyer who will prepare you for the political asylum application and the political asylum interview.

The process can take about a year to receive immigration news and over 40,000 applications are submitted every year. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can also help you seek political asylum in the USA.


SurfNturf-Other groups seeking political asylum, feel that it's unfair because the Cuban people have this exclusive right when other groups don't.

For example, Haitians are also trying to escape Haiti in rafts just like the Cubans, but those that reach American soil do not receive automatic asylum.

Although the Haitian government is oppressive and people are suffering there, they don’t face the possibility of death if they are deported to Haiti, while the Cuban people do, that is the major difference.

In order to seek political asylum, you really need to hire a political asylum lawyer in order to be granted political asylum citizenship.


Anon84607-I agree that it would be difficult to reenter a country that you are seeking political asylum from.

I know that there are special rules for those seeking political asylum. For example, Cubans seeking political asylum in the United States is automatically granted political asylum citizenship.

The Cuban people because they come from a communist dictatorship are granted automatic political asylum when they reach the United States.

The Cubans have to actually reach American soil in order for this to happen. If they fall short of reaching the United States, they will be sent back to Cuba.


when you file political asylum and the American government gives you a green card or some type of paperwork, how the hell do they let you travel to your country? How is that possible?

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