Ghanian authorities have arrested 124 Chinese citizens for illegal gold mining in the resource-rich west African country, highlighting the social and environmental challenges posed by China’s growing presence on the continent.
Local police arrested the suspected illegal miners in the country’s capital, Accra, China’s state newswire Xinhua reported on Thursday, citing Francis Palmdeti, the head of the Ghana immigration service. Many of them are likely to face deportation.
Ghana, the continent’s second-largest gold producer, has forbidden foreigners from working in its small-scale mines since the 1980s. Locals have criticised Chinese miners for taking local jobs, polluting lakes and rivers, and wielding weapons such as AK-47 rifles to ward off robbers.
"In certain areas, people don’t even get clean drinking water, and in some areas you can see that most of the forest cover has been destroyed," Brigadier General Daniel Mishio, chairman of Ghana’s national security commission for lands and natural resources, told The Guardian in April. "This poses a very big danger to our future."
Yu Jie, the spokesperson for China’s embassy in Ghana, cautioned Chinese citizens in the country to "strictly abide by the related laws and regulations", Xinhua reported. Yu urged Ghana to exercise "strong discipline" in enforcing its laws. Beijing has sent diplomats to visit the detainees.
Ghana’s president, John Dramani Mahama, formed a political committee to crack down on illegal mining last month.
More than 50,000 Chinese gold miners have been to Ghana since 2005, according to the South China Morning Post. Two-thirds of them come from Shanglin, an impoverished county in southern Guangxi province where news of the gold rush spread by word of mouth.
"There are about 180 households in our village and more than 100 young men are in Ghana," 24-year-old Shanglin villager Wen Daijin told the newspaper. "Many borrow money from local banks and relatives to go there. In my township, only men with physical problems don’t have plans to go to Ghana."
Wen continued: "You need at least one excavator to dig sand and rocks, some trucks and two high-powered sand-pumping machines to dredge for alluvial gold. The pumps are a special design, produced in our hometown." Some Shanglin residents have returned home because of the recent crackdown, the newspaper reported.
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