This article analyses the determinants of asylum migration to Western Europe. Potential asylum seekers balance the costs of staying versus the costs of migrating. Estimation results confirm that economic hardship and economic discrimination against ethnic minorities leads to higher flows of asylum seekers. However, political oppression, human rights abuse, violent conflict and state failure are also important determinants, casting doubt on the mis-conception of all asylum seekers as ‘bogus’ refugees. Migration networks and geographical proximity are important facilitators of asylum flows as predicted by theory. Colonial experience, religious similarity and casual contact with the developed world (aid, trade and tourism) are not. Natural disasters and famines are also not statistically significant determinants. These events are typically short-term and unexpected, whereas asylum migration to Western Europe requires preparatory planning.