The influx of people caught up in the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War might be an issue of minor consequence in the distant Japan, but an illustration posted on Facebook has provoked a massive debate on the ongoing humanitarian crisis among the Japanese netizens.
A right-wing Manga artist, who believes that all refugees – particularly those fleeing Syria – are immigrants, has drawn the ire of online community by posting a controversial cartoon of a young unkempt refugee girl with a wry smile.
“I want to live a safe and clean life, eat gourmet food, go out, wear pretty things, and live a luxurious life… all at the expense of someone else,” reads the text in the illustration above. “I have an idea. I'll become a refugee.”
The unsympathetic image was posted by artist Toshiko Hasumi last month, and since then, more than 10,000 people have signed an online petition urging Facebook to recognize the work as racist and take it down. Social media users have dubbed the work as “malicious” and “disgusting,” and have even called out the artist for ridiculing the migrants’ plight.
“I’ve never seen anything this malicious. To think how the world and refugees will perceive this peace … I’m so ashamed,” one person commented on the picture, while other said, “Japan has already been recognized by the world as hostile toward refugees. This work is typical of that mindset. Japan should never be a country tolerant of racism.”
However, despite all the criticism, the conservative artist remains defiant about her motivations for posting it in the first place. In fact, she believes she is only being targeted because she draws political caricatures that most don’t find amusing.
“It is my understanding that most of the refugees fleeing Syria this time are bogus asylum seekers. Instead of traveling around furtively like before, those illegal migrants are now inundating other countries through the front door,” Hasumi explained. “I have no problem with genuine refugees who really are unfortunate. This illustration is supposed to be a dig at those ‘bogus refugees’ who are exploiting the world’s sympathy for those truly in trouble.”
The artist claims that she only used an image of a young girl, instead of an old man or someone else, to draw attention towards the issue of “fake asylum seekers” looking for refugee in Europe and other parts of the world.
What makes the entire scenario even more serious is the fact that the controversial image appears to be inspired by an actual picture of 6-year-old Syrian girl living in a refugee camp in Lebanon.
Jonathan Hyams, a photographer working for the charity Save the Children, took the picture and although the Facebook refused to take it down, the artist herself removed it from social media after Hyams made a request.
Shocked+deeply saddened anyone would choose to use an image of an innocent child to express such perverse prejudice http://t.co/JfXeuQAWAE— Jonathan Hyams (@jonathanhyams) October 3, 2015
“To use this image out of context and in a way that is hugely disrespectful to [the girl], her family and all refugees is not acceptable, and we are satisfied that the image has now been removed,” a spokesperson for the charity said in a statement.
Immigration is hugely controversial in Japan. Last year, the country only accepted 11 of the 5,000 asylum seekers and has refused to take in any of the refugees and internationally displaced people despite human rights organizations' serious criticism.
However, to lend a helping hand, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to contribute $810 million to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees.