ACCRA - More than 150 Chinese citizens arrested in Ghana for illegal mining will be deported next week but will not face criminal charges, an immigration official said Friday.

The 169 arrests have been carried out since June 1 across the west African country and particularly in the central Ashanti region, a major gold-mining hub.

“I believe by the middle of next week we should have repatriated them,” Michael Amoako-Atta, a spokesman at the Ghana Immigration Service, told AFP. He had earlier said roughly 100 had been detained, but later said the figure had reached 169. Amoako-Atta said some of the Chinese nationals were to be presented at a magistrates court Friday in the capital Accra, where authorities would seek permission to detain them until they are sent home. The group is currently being kept in a series of holding cells at an immigration building in Accra.

The arrests came a month after President John Dramani Mahama launched a taskforce to crack down on illegal mining.

Ghana is Africa’s second-biggest gold exporter, behind South Africa, but the sector has long been plagued by unregulated activity.

Many Chinese are involved in small-scale mining, often crossing illegally from neighbouring countries. Ghanaian law prohibits foreigners from engaging in small-scale mining.

Illegal mining is blamed for exacerbating land conflicts, causing runoff that pollutes water supplies and putting miners at risk of injury.

A collapse at a gold mine in central Ghana in April killed 17 people.

There were no immediate indications that the looming deportations would have a wider impact on Ghana-China relations.

Ghana’s foreign ministry and Chinese officials in Accra were not immediately available for comment.

Beijing has made efforts to expand its presence in Ghana in recent years, but with mixed results.

Ghana’s national oil company GNPC in 2010 sought to partner with China’s state oil major CNOOC to purchase shares in the Texas-based Kosmos energy, which has a stake Ghana’s offshore Jubilee oil field.

Kosmos rejected the $5-billion (3.7-billion-euro) bid, but Chinese firms have since made other inroads into Ghana’s burgeoning energy sector.

SINOPEC, the Chinese petrochemical company, holds a $750-million contract to transport and process gas from the Jubilee field.

Commercial energy production began at Jubilee in 2011, boosting Ghana’s economic growth for that year to roughly 14 percent.

The country saw eight-percent growth in 2012, with similar rates expected for 2013, and the country’s reliance on mining and cocoa production, another major sector, is expected to decline as energy production ramps up.