Up to 300 illegal gold miners have been trapped in a gold mine in the Ashanti region of southeast Ghana. Many miners are refusing to exit due to fear of arrest.  

There are conflicting estimates on the number of miners trapped underground, but it could be up to 300. 

The illegal miners are believed to have entered the mine, belonging to South African mining company AngloGold Ashanti, on or around 29 May. They could not leave after the exits were allegedly closed. 

Seven miners came out of the mine on Monday morning and were immediately arrested. An additional 79 individuals exited the mine on Wednesday and were arrested, according to AngloGold Ashanti. Others have remained in the mine for four days now. 

The practice of illegal, or artisanal mining, is estimated to account for around 10% of South Africa’s gold production. The trade employs around 1 million people in Ghana. 

Illegal mining is often the only source of income for people in these communities but carries significant risks. According to a study from Dumbo University in Ghana, a lack of employment opportunities has led to an increase in illegal mining in recent years. 

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Illegal miners “not confined in any way”

“Intrusion of illegal miners into underground areas remains a significantly dangerous activity and AngloGold Ashanti Ghana is working alongside authorities to ensure that only authorised personnel and contractors can access underground work areas,” said AngloGold Ashanti in a statement seen by Mining Technology.

According to the company, illegal miners can exit the mine on foot and via the main exit and are “not confined in any way”. Local community members have said that they are unable to access those trapped in the mine, including to give them food and water. 

AngloGold Ashanti has encouraged those inside “to leave the mine at any time by the exit points”.

The Obuasi underground mine runs to a depth of 1,500 meters at its deepest point and has produced 250koz of gold. 

Ghana’s Minerals and Mining Act states that small-scale miners must hold a license. However, around 85% of small-scale mining is still conducted illegally.

AngloGold Ashanti has said that it is “working alongside authorities to ensure that only authorised mine personnel and contractors can access underground work areas”.