Three makeshift migrant camps were evacuated and destroyed by French riot police in Calais yesterday.
About 200 officers surrounded and then cleared the camps housing migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia after a deadline to leave expired.
The governor of the Pas-de-Calais region, Denis Robin, cited insanitary conditions in the camps and a scabies outbreak which he said was beginning to spread into the town of Calais as a reason for the move.
Many migrants left the camps in advance of the operation, with some seen leaving hurriedly carrying blankets.
Migrants’ representatives were said to be in talks as to whether they would accept an offer from the authorities of being rehoused elsewhere in exchange of a promise not to be arrested.
They were being offered the chance to shower, receive medical attention and have a change of clothes, shoes and bedding.
Very few migrants so far have reportedly accepted this offer, while more than 200 are said to have moved into a food distribution centre. They are thought to be reluctant to take alternative accommodation outside Calais as they hope to get into Britain.
Dozens of migrants and activists gathered near one camp, some angrily trying to prevent police from evacuating it. There were no reports of arrests. Police officers checked in tents and under tarpaulins for migrants before sealing off the camps.
Calais is a magnet for migrants from war zones and poor countries who are trying to reach Britain. The three camps evacuated yesterday housed up to 500 people, according to local estimates.
Officials at Calais police headquarters and city hall could not be reached for comment.
In an open letter to the French prime minister on Tuesday, aid groups wrote: “The situation in Calais is deteriorating to a deafening silence.”
The French government previously closed the Sangatte Red Cross centre, near Calais, in 2002 after repeated lobbying by then-UK home secretary David Blunkett. The camp was said to have been a staging post for thousands of migrants entering the UK illegally.
Aid groups said migrants had made last-ditch attempts to cross the Channel ahead of yesterday’s police operation.
Border police were said to have spotted groups of 30 to 40 people hiding in shrubs along roads leading into the port. Some were attempting to jump on lorries as they slowed down.
Regional newspaper La Voix du Nord reported that migrants and volunteers at the food distribution centre have been given until today or tomorrow before they are forced to move out of Calais.
It said that 15 of the migrants have already agreed to move into alternative accommodation outside the town.
A spokeswoman for Mr Robin said she could not give further details of the negotiations for the time being.