Gold mine raids in Ghana seize 124 suspected illegal Chinese workers

Mainland prospectors seeking their fortunes in Ghana are rounded up and face being deported

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 11:38am

Police are rounding up Chinese workers suspected of illegally mining for gold in the resource-rich African country of Ghana.

Witnesses said armed officers raided mines, supermarkets and hotels in Kumasi, Obuasi and Dunkwa in the Ashanti region of the west African country, where Chinese run the majority of the small and medium gold mines.

Ghana's Immigration Service said yesterday that 124 illegal Chinese gold prospectors had been detained in the capital Accra, Xinhua reported, adding that the Chinese Embassy had confirmed the arrests. Many of them are likely to be deported.

China's Foreign Ministry urged its nationals in Ghana to "respect local laws" and asked the local authorities to protect Chinese people's rights.

Most of the illegal prospectors in Ghana are Chinese - an estimated 50,000 of them - and the majority come from the town of Shanglin in Guangxi .

Ghana is the second largest gold producer in Africa, after South Africa. The Chinese gold rush in Ghana began in 2005. As word spread about the easy fortunes made by the early adventurers, thousands flocked there.

At its peak, several thousand small gold mines were run by Chinese, who formed partnerships with local owners.

Su Zhenyu , secretary general of the Chinese Mining Association in Ghana, estimated that gold mines controlled by Chinese prospectors produced about 24 tonnes (846,000 ounces) of gold a year.

Many people became rich and sent their fortunes home. The phenomenon caught the attention of the central government after a bank in Shanglin reported that it had received a total of one billion yuan (HK$1.25 billion) in remittances from Ghana in the course of just two weeks in May to June 2011, according to the 21st Century Business Herald.

The average annual personal income in Shanglin, in contrast, is only about 5,082 yuan.

But the gold rush quickly turned sour. Ghana's government accused the Chinese prospectors of working without permits and said their mining methods - often unregulated - polluted rivers and lakes.

The gold rush also caused many social problems. Cashed-up Chinese prospectors have become easy prey for local gangs. Fearing for their safety, many Chinese hired armed bodyguards and bought weapons to defend themselves.

"At first, we didn't want to leave because we have invested a lot here," said Raymond Xie, a gold prospector. "We bought shotguns to defend ourselves.

"But the current situation is getting worse. We don't get any protection or support from the government. We now want to go back to China, because we fear we may get robbed or killed."