National / Social Issues

Manga artist removes illustration mocking Syrian refugee

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A manga artist behind a Facebook illustration labeling a refugee from Syria a selfish freeloader has taken it down at the request of a photographer who criticized her for distorting his work.

On her Facebook account Thursday, artist Toshiko Hasumi refused to apologize, claiming her illustration, based on a photo of a girl at a refugee settlement in Lebanon taken by Canadian documentary photographer Jonathan Hyams, did not constitute copyright infringement.

Hasumi, however, explained she deleted the illustration at Hyams’ request early Wednesday because “the fact remains I have caused him enormous trouble.”

“But I will not apologize no matter what,” she said. “Because unlike in Japan, you’re destined to lose in a court battle overseas once you’ve admitted to your fault.”

The illustration contains a thought bubble that says: “I want to live a safe and clean life, have a gourmet meal, go out freely, wear pretty things and luxuriate. I want to live my life the way I want without a care in the world — all at the expense of someone else.

“I have an idea. Why don’t I become a refugee?” it concludes.

Hasumi rejected accusations it was racist, claiming she did not seek to denigrate Syrians, she told The Japan Times.

Instead, she said, it was meant to ridicule economic migrants “pursing a safer, more comfortable life in a foreign land under the guise of pitiable asylum seekers.”

For his part, Hyams was quick to express shock at the illustration on Twitter: “Shocked + deeply saddened anyone would choose to use an image of an innocent child to express such perverse prejudice,” he said.

“What a shameful misrepresentation of the plight of the Syrian people,” he continued, adding the photo was taken for the independent charity organization Save the Children.

An online furor has broken out in response to Hasumi’s illustration, with the number of Change.org signatures calling on Facebook to recognize it as racism totaling more than 10,000 as of Thursday.