Ghana’s crackdown on illegal mining: at least 55 new arrests

At least 55 miners from Niger, Nigeria and Togo suspected of illegal gold extraction have been arrested over the weekend, an immigration spokesman told the BBC.

The news comes only a couple of days after the country’s immigration service announced it was deporting this week the nearly 160 illegal Chinese gold mine workers and prospectors arrested in Ghana since June 1.

Over the weekend, the Ghanaian government agreed to release a total of 124 Chinese miners caught in illegal mining practices, but ordered them to leave the country. Authorities also said they would grant safe passage to others miners if they voluntarily agree to leave Ghana.

Ghanaian law prevents foreigners from working in small-scale gold mines. However, several immigrants, mainly Chinese, circumvent the rules by paying off local chiefs, who control land and can get mining licences.

It's estimated that 50,000 illegal Chinese gold prospectors are currently operating in Ghana, Africa's second largest gold producer after South Africa.

The Chinese 'gold rush' in the country began in 2005 and, "at its peak, several thousand small gold mines were run by Chinese, who formed partnerships with local owners."