Ghanaian police have arrested 46 foreign nationals from China and India accused of illegally mining gold. They were detained in overnight raids in the country’s Central region, where they were operating small barges to dredge the bed of the River Offin, BBC reports.
More than 4,500 Chinese nationals have been repatriated from Ghana this year after a series of swoops on illegal goldmines. Ghanaian officials say since the clampdown began, some illegal miners have been working at night to avoid detection, according to the report.
Ghana is Africa’s biggest gold producer after South Africa.
Ghanaian law prevents foreigners from working in small-scale gold mines. The authorities say the illegal mining pollutes the rivers and destroys the environment.
Illegal miners use makeshift barges to dredge mud from river beds that is then sifted for gold.
According to a July 2013 report in The Guardian after Ghana immigration authorities deported the more than 4,500 Chinese nationals in illegal mining sweeps, Ghana’s government, which depends heavily on China for billions of dollars in loans and is a major trading partner, believes Beijing may be retaliating, damaging relations between the two countries.
“Of late we have seen a tightening of the visa regime at the Chinese embassy for Ghanaians. We don’t know whether this is a manifestation of our actions to deport illegal Chinese goldminers,” said Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, Ghana’s minister of lands and mines.
“This is a matter for concern. Relations between China and Ghana go back a long way, and they had been on the rise until we started the expulsion of foreigners from our illegal mining sites. We didn’t think China would take it to this extent.”
China has denied that any of its actions are a retaliation for the deportation of illegal immigrants from Ghana. Ghana’s government also claims that delays in its access a $3 billion loan facility agreed upon with China recently were related to the current events.