Human rights organisations on Friday expressed outrage after the right-wing mayor of Calais signed an order that could stop some refugees from receiving food from aid groups.

A decree published a day earlier banned gatherings at the site of the former "jungle" refugee camp, with the Calais authority saying that they spurred ethnic tensions and conflict between rival groups of refugees.

The order, signed by mayor Natacha Bouchart, said that the safety of residents was under threat as refugees fought with one another after food was distributed at the now-closed camp, according to the Reuters news agency.

Seven aid groups said on Friday that, despite the order, they were still distributing meals.

Francois Guennoc of Auberge des Migrants says the groups have changed meal distribution spots and would do so nightly, if needed, to evade police.

Gael Manzi, who works for local aid association Utopia 56, said: "You're talking about young people and children. You just can't deprive them of food."

Andrew Stroehlein, spokesman for Human Rights Watch, tweeted: "Calais mayor aiming to win heartlessness award?"

The mayor's decree did not expressly bar food distribution, but said it was "necessary to ban all gatherings" at the site and block people from entering it.

"It's not a directive against the distribution of meals, but against gatherings, because these lead to law and order issues, as well as security and waste problems," Bouchart told the AFP news agency. "I took this decision to make sure that no permanent base or squat is created around Calais," she added.

Last month, NGOs said hundreds of refugee children had been returning to Calais, despite the dismantling of the camp late last year.

Calais has been a magnet for refugees trying to reach Britain for more than a decade, with French authorities repeatedly tearing down camps there.

From Calais, refugees try to break into trucks heading to Britain. Some locals resent their presence.

Several thousand people fleeing war or poverty in the camp last October were sent to accommodation around France, leading to fierce criticism from the far-right National Front party.

Source: News agencies