(especially formerly) an institution for the maintenance and care of the mentally ill, orphans, or other persons requiring specialized assistance.
an inviolable refuge, as formerly for criminals and debtors; sanctuary: He sought asylum in the church.
International Law.
a refuge granted an alien by a sovereign state on its own territory.
a temporary refuge granted political offenders, especially in a foreign embassy.
any secure retreat.

1400–50; late Middle English; < Latin < Greek ásȳlon sanctuary, equivalent to a- a-6 + sŷlon right of seizure

2. haven, shelter, retreat. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
asylum (əˈsaɪləm)
1.  a safe or inviolable place of refuge, esp as formerly offered by the Christian Church to criminals, outlaws, etc; sanctuary (often in the phrase give asylum to)
2.  shelter; refuge
3.  international law refuge afforded to a person whose extradition is sought by a foreign government: political asylum
4.  obsolete an institution for the shelter, treatment, or confinement of individuals, esp a mental hospital (formerly termed lunatic asylum)
[C15: via Latin from Greek asulon refuge, from asulos that may not be seized, from a-1 + sulon right of seizure]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

early 15c., from L. asylum "sanctuary," from Gk. asylon "refuge," noun use of neut. of asylos "inviolable, safe from violence," from a- "without" + syle "right of seizure." So lit. "an inviolable place."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

asylum a·sy·lum (ə-sī'ləm)
An institution for the care of people, especially individuals with physical or mental impairments, who require organized supervision or assistance.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Example sentences
We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick.
It is true what they say about insane asylums, that there is more out than in.
Abandoned mental asylums are treasure-troves for adventurous photographers,
  curious historians, and well-traveled urban explorers.
Outsider art is the name given to work made in places such as asylums and
  prisons by artists who have not been to art school.
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