Ghana calls off search for 17 trapped illegal miners

The government of Ghana called off Thursday a search for miners who were trapped underground since Sunday after an illegal gold mine collapsed, declaring 17 dead.

According to AFP agency, rescuers were able to find only one of the bodies, which are buried more than 80 metres (260 feet) deep.

Authorities plan to cover the pit and so prevent other illegal miners from entering in the future.

While major global companies are part of Ghana’s mining sector, illegal gold extraction is a chronic issue in Africa’s second largest gold producer. Last year, it caused the state to lose $2.3bn in revenue.

Illegal gold mining is a ramping issue at Africa’s second largest gold producer, and it has fuelled violence and pollution. In May, Ghana’s government suspended licences for small-scale operations, mostly run by Chinese businessmen, in an attempt to crackdown on the illicit activity.

The measure has exacerbated long-dragged resentment from locals towards Chinese nationals, who they blame for the devastating consequences of the illicit activity.

Last year, illegal mining caused the state to lose $2.3 billion in revenue, data from Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources shows. In comparison, Ghana’s legal gold exports brought $3.2 billion last year to the government coffers.

Facing mounting tensions, violence, and pollution, Ghana has stepped up the arrest and deportation of those illegal foreign miners in recent years. In June and July 2013 alone more than 4,500 illegal Chinese gold miners were deported. More recently, in August 2016, the government expelled about 30 illegal miners, the majority of them Chinese.

Ghana relies on China for billions of dollars in loans and commerce, as the country is its biggest trading partner. The crackdown on illegal foreign miners, experts agree, threatens to make the situation increasingly difficult for Ghana, particularly as the illicit extraction of gold has become an economic lifeline in the country’s rural areas.