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Suppose someone were to enter Vatican City and request asylum. Vatican City is a highly unusual country and I’m not sure what would happen. Are they a party to any treaties that would require them to process the claim? If so, how would this be handled?

2 Answers 2

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Dale's answer is correct in theory, but in practice, it depends.

If the refugee is specifically claiming that they are subject to persecution by Italy, then the principle of non-refoulement prohibits Vatican City from returning the refugee to Italian soil, provided that the claim is genuine (as determined by the Vatican). In such a case, it is likely that the refugee would remain on Vatican soil unless and until some sort of deal was worked out with the Italians (enabling the refugee to travel through Italy to some other country that would not persecute them, or credibly prohibiting Italy from persecuting the refugee at all). The process of negotiating such an agreement is off-topic on this site, but in general I tend to imagine it would be a geopolitical mess. To the best of my knowledge, this has not happened in recent history. I could imagine something like this having happened during the Second World War, given the tensions between the Vatican and Fascist Italy at the time, but the modern system of asylum was only formalized in 1951, so any such example would necessarily be a gray area.

If the refugee is fleeing from some third country, then in recent history the Vatican has negotiated resettlement in Rome for at least some refugees. However, that is not an exact parallel to your given situation, because the Vatican affirmatively volunteered to take those refugees on. It is unclear to me whether the Vatican discussed the matter with the Italian government before making that offer - it was a small enough group of refugees (12) that they plausibly could've housed them entirely on Vatican soil if necessary.

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  • Most jurisdictions also support asylum in churches as a form of religious freedom. Is there anything analogous for asylum in Vatican City, reflecting its status as the seat of the Catholic religion?
    – Barmar
    Feb 21 at 14:55
  • @Barmar: Vatican City has the inherent power to grant asylum because it is a sovereign state, as recognized in the Lateran Treaty. Whether Italian law permits seeking asylum in (other) churches is irrelevant, as they have explicitly recognized the Vatican in particular as sovereign. (The other possible interpretation of your question is whether a church on Vatican soil can grant asylum against the rest of the Vatican government, but I don't believe that such a church exists on Vatican soil with the requisite level of independence for such a situation to arise.)
    – Kevin
    Feb 22 at 3:51
  • @Barmar, in Germany church asylum is very much a legal gray area. When a church descides to house and feed a refugee on church property, the various authorities will generally spend their time and effort deporting other denied refugees instead. That doesn't make church asylum legal, it just lowers the priority of that case. And the backlock in the legal system is long enough that "later" becomes "not anytime soon."
    – o.m.
    Feb 22 at 6:00
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The claim would be processed according to domestic (Vatican City) law and international convention

The Vatican City is not a "highly unusual country" in any legal sense. Yes, it's an absolute monarchy whose King also happens to be the Pope, but in international and domestic law it operates just like any other country.

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    – Dale M
    Feb 21 at 20:44

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