According to the European Court of Justice, a gay refugee from a country where people are jailed for being homosexual does qualify as a persecuted group eligible for asylum.

The court's ruling concerned three homosexual men from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal who had sought asylum in Holland, but is binding for all EU countries, including Britain.

"Homosexual acts are a criminal offence in those three countries and may lead to serious punishment, from heavy fines to life imprisonment in certain cases," the ECJ ruled.

"A term of imprisonment which accompanies a legislative provision which punishes homosexual acts may constitute an act of persecution per se, provided that it is actually applied."

The EU judges also ruled that asylum seekers should not be expected to conceal their homosexuality to avoid persecution in their home country.