The European Union's top court says refugees facing imprisonment in their country of origin because they are gay may have sufficient grounds to be granted asylum in Europe.

The European Court of Justice said Thursday the existence of laws imprisoning homosexuals "may constitute an act of persecution per se" if they are routinely enforced.

It says Europe's national authorities must determine whether the situation in an applicant's home country amounts to persecution.

International treaties say people must prove they have a well-founded fear of persecution if they are to successfully obtain asylum.

The Luxembourg-based court ruled on three cases of nationals from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal seeking asylum in the Netherlands. The case was brought by a Dutch court seeking clarification of EU laws.