Recent news has highlighted how asylum has been sought by or granted to Hongkongers in places such as Australia and Canada . Indeed, political asylum is perhaps the association most immediately made with the word – but “asylum” has, in different times, had different scopes. “Asylum” comes from the Latin as ȳ lum, which in turn came from the Greek ἄσῡλον “refuge, sanctuary”, from its adjective, ἄσῡλος “inviolable”, which comprises ἄ “not, without”, plus σύλη / σῦλον “right of seizure”. In The Early History of Rome , historian Livy recounts how Romulus, as Rome’s first king, established a site called Asylum, in a valley between two hills, where, to help fill his new city, “he threw open in the ground […] a place of asylum for fugitives. Hither fled for refuge all the rag-tag-and-bobtail from the neighbouring peoples: some free, some slaves, and all of them wanting nothing but a fresh start”. In early English usage, from around 1430 to the early 1800s, an asylum was a sanctuary for criminals and debtors, from which they could not be forcibly removed without sacrilege. From the mid-1600s, an asylum also meant more generally a secure place of refuge, shelter or retreat – for ships or monks. In the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries, an asylum comprised a benevolent institution affording shelter to the afflicted or destitute. Travel writing and medical accounts of the day describe those suffering from leprosy or ophthalmia being cared for in asyla. This more specific meaning now tends to be restricted to referencing lunatic asylums, with the establishment, in Britain and in American colonies during the 18th century, of institutions for the mentally ill. The phrase “political asylum” emerged in the mid-1800s, due to religious and political turmoil in Switzerland and France. This specific meaning – refuge in a nation other than one’s own, especially as a political refugee, or the right to claim this – has become distilled in the word “asylum” and now perhaps has the greatest currency. The Oxford English Dictionary added this in their 2001 update, along with the phrase “asylum seeker”. Early Rome recognised how its asylum seekers were “the first real addition to the City’s strength, the first step to her future greatness”. Hong Kong’s acceptance of asylum seekers from post-war China resulted in phenomenal growth. One hopes that their descendants are similarly welcomed and valued wherever they seek sanctuary.