Most of the illegal immigrants are said to have entered the retail business and gone into illegal gold mining whilst others have targeted oil services, irking many locals who accuse them of stealing their jobs.
But while some citizens from the regional Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) grouping are reading xenophobia into the directive, Ghana authorities look resolute and will from June 30 start removing illegal immigrants involved in the retail trade.
This is in line with the country’s investment regulations that restricts market retail trading to Ghanaians alone, officials have said.
A taskforce to implement the directive has already been set up by the Ministry of Trade and among those that would be worst hit are the Nigerians and Chinese who have set up shops in Accra’s Central Business District.
On May 16, GIS officials arrested two Chinese for engaging in commercial activities and said this “was in line with the ministry of Trade and Industry’s national exercise to get rid of foreigners in the country’s retail business”.
Act 478 of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Law stipulates that “the sale of anything whatsoever in the market, petty trading, hawking or selling from a kiosk at any place is a wholly reserved activity for Ghanaians”.
A number of Chinese have also been busted over the past few weeks engaging in illegal mining in some parts of the country.
Last month, Ghanaian police had to step in to avoid violence when youth groups in the north went on the rampage to flush out Chinese they claimed were destroying the environment through illegal mining.
Addressing immigration staff in Accra, Interior minister William Aboah directed the director general to investigate how immigrants entered the country illegally, while others had acquired work permits despite not having arrival stamps in their passports.
“There is a growing perception and reports that the country is being flooded by illegal immigrants,” Mr Aboah said, adding that “the issue of their entry into the country is being questioned and it appears most of them entered the country by way of the visa on arrival window.
“Some [have] managed to acquire work permits through the back door while others continue to stay in the country illegally,” he said.
Some had been found with weapons, the minister added. “These are serious issues which undermine the security of the country.”
But some Ecowas citizens engaged in retail trade have protested what they say is the unfair treatment.
“The Ecowas protocol is clear on citizens from the community and their rights of abode in member countries and therefore what the Ghanaians are doing borders on xenophobia,” said Mr Lucky Eze, a Nigerian trader.
Mr Eze said most Ecowas citizens were not breaking the law: “Either the Ghanaian authorities do not want to implement the protocol in its proper way or there is some envy against us.”
It might not be this but some Ghanaians engaged in retail trade think they are being taken out of business.
Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) president George Ofori has accused foreign retail traders of triggering the sharp depreciation of the [Ghana currency] cedi against major currencies.
Mr Ofori said the high demand for the dollar to meet the huge imports by non-Ghanaians involved in the retail trade had resulted in its scarcity, pushing the exchange rate higher.
“These foreigners come in as manufacturers’ representatives who are here to take commission on behalf of their manufacturing firms in those areas… and so that foreigner could be able to bring in about 400 containers in a year whilst a Ghanaian could afford a maximum of only 20 containers in a year; and after selling their goods, all of them are going to the same exchange market to change the money from cedi to dollars,” he said.
Mr Ofori said allowing the foreign traders to thrive was not in the interest of the country because “Ghana is the loser and if our economy is destroyed by these foreigners they will go back and leave the economy for us to repair the damage ourselves.”
He added the foreigner influx had also led to local traders being invasion kicked out by landlords who demand more rent that is out of reach of Ghanaians.