asy·​lum | \ ə-ˈsī-ləm \

Definition of asylum

1 : an inviolable place of refuge and protection giving shelter to criminals and debtors : sanctuary
2 : a place of retreat and security : shelter
3a : the protection or security afforded by an asylum : refuge
b : protection from arrest and extradition given especially to political refugees by a nation or by an embassy or other agency enjoying freedom from what is required by law for most people
4 somewhat old-fashioned : an institution providing care and protection to needy individuals (such as the infirm or destitute) and especially the mentally ill

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Examples of asylum in a Sentence

She asked for political asylum. She was granted asylum after it was made clear that she would be killed if she returned to her native country.

Recent Examples on the Web

The action at the border these days, in terms of immigration, is about asylum seekers, whole family units who arrive and either cross at legal ports of entry or else deliberately present themselves to Border Patrol after crossing illegally. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "The shutdown is intractable because Trump’s wall is ridiculous and Republicans know it," 8 Jan. 2019 Refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers have so much strength. Rebecca Nelson, Marie Claire, "2019's Barrier-Breaking Politicians Get to Work," 3 Jan. 2019 But, in addition to the seaborne route, Greece also saw a rise in asylum seekers crossing the country’s narrow land border with Turkey. Nektaria Stamouli, WSJ, "Mediterranean Migration to Europe Drops Sharply," 3 Jan. 2019 In other news that is dubiously legal and not at all cool: last Sunday, US Border Patrol agents teargassed asylum seekers at the border, including barefoot toddlers. Christian Allaire, Vogue, "The Week in Washington: Tough Times For Individual One," 2 Dec. 2018 Or leave them like this, but then fix climate change or go help asylum seekers at the border. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "Twitter Is Screaming Over the White House's Eerie Christmas Decorations," 26 Nov. 2018 The asylum-seekers, mainly families from Syria, Afghanistan and African countries, arrived Tuesday onboard an overnight ferry from Lesbos. Fox News, "The Latest: EU says Libya responsible for rescue ship," 25 Sep. 2018 Racial tensions were palpable, and the asylum seekers seemed generally unwelcome. Christy Turlington Burns, Marie Claire, "Christy Turlington Burns' Immigration Story," 13 Aug. 2018 Federal attorneys filed similar requests to this one in other cases across the country, including, for example, in litigation against Trump’s asylum policies, per Gerstein. Dylan Scott, Vox, "Why the government shutdown is good legal news for Trump," 27 Dec. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'asylum.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of asylum

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for asylum

Middle English, from Latin, from Greek asylon, neuter of asylos inviolable, from a- + sylon right of seizure

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Last Updated

16 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for asylum

The first known use of asylum was in the 15th century

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English Language Learners Definition of asylum

: protection given by a government to someone who has left another country in order to escape being harmed

: a hospital where people who are mentally ill are cared for especially for long periods of time : a mental hospital


asy·​lum | \ ə-ˈsī-ləm \

Kids Definition of asylum

1 : a place of protection and shelter They sought asylum from the storm.
2 : protection given especially to political refugees
3 : a place for the care of the poor or the physically or mentally ill


asy·​lum | \ ə-ˈsī-ləm \

Medical Definition of asylum

: an institution providing care and protection to needy individuals (such as the infirm or destitute) and especially the mentally ill

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asy·​lum | \ ə-ˈsī-ləm \

Legal Definition of asylum

: protection from arrest and extradition given especially to political refugees by a nation or by an embassy or other agency that has diplomatic immunity

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More from Merriam-Webster on asylum

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with asylum

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for asylum

Spanish Central: Translation of asylum

Nglish: Translation of asylum for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of asylum for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about asylum

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a complex dispute or argument

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