A person seeking asylum is someone who appeals to a foreign country for protection because of the danger he or she faces in the home country. Asylum seekers, or asylees, must be able to prove that they have reasonable fear of persecution in their home country due to race, national origin, religion, political opinion, or membership in a social group. If they are in genuine danger, most free nations will grant them protection from arrest and/or extradition to their country of origin.
We should note that seeking asylum is not the same as illegally emigrating to a country. An illegal immigrant flees his or her own country for another, ignoring the laws governing entrance into the new country. An asylum seeker may or may not have entered a country legally.
There were asylum seekers of a different type in the Old Testament. God instructed the Levites to set apart six cities of refuge to which a person could flee in the event he had unintentionally killed someone (Exodus 21:13; Deuteronomy 19:2–13; Joshua 20:1–6). In a city of refuge, the accused killer could find asylum and live safely from anyone seeking vengeance until the case could go to trial. If the killing was found to be unintentional, asylum was granted within the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. As long as the asylee stayed in the city of refuge, he was safe (Numbers 35:24–28). After the death of the high priest, the asylee could leave the city of refuge and travel freely.
Asylum seekers should receive fairness and justice in light of the law. As individuals, we have clear biblical instructions on how to treat asylum seekers. The New Testament is replete with instructions to love others in both word and deed. For example, Galatians 6 talks about doing “good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). First John 3:18 says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” The way we treat those seeking asylum reflects our relationship with Jesus.
We can also look to the Old Testament for insight into God’s heart for asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants. In Leviticus 19:33–34 God told the Israelites: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” In Leviticus 19:9–10 God told the Israelites not to reap to the edges of their grain fields but to leave the gleanings for the poor and the foreigners.
Knowing all that God has done for us, we are to treat foreigners as our neighbors and to love them as we love ourselves. We who have received God’s love should share it with others. We should also be an example in the way we follow the law and respect law-makers. In fact, one way we can aid those who seek asylum is to help them navigate the laws and advocate on their behalf to obtain the needed permissions for legal residence.
Of course, spiritual asylum is found in Jesus. Just as the cities of refuge were a place of safety and rescue from danger, so Jesus is the refuge in whom sinners find safety and rescue from sin and death (Hebrews 6:18). We run to Christ to escape the danger we face from the condemnation of sin, from the wrath of God, and from an eternity in hell. Jesus provides safety to all who come to Him for refuge from sin and death.