• Kyodo, Reuters


A Twitter post by the Tokyo immigration bureau that appears to chide people who vandalized public property with messages that criticize the country’s treatment of asylum-seekers has gone viral, with many criticizing the tweet’s focus on the graffiti rather than the broader issue over refugees.

The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau posted the tweet on Tuesday, along with photos of a sidewalk, a wall and a nearby pedestrian bridge in Tokyo’s Minato Ward that were vandalized with graffiti reading “free refugees” and “refugees welcome” in English using all capital letters.

The bureau, which said the graffiti had been found Monday morning, commented: “Freedom of expression is important but this is public property. Isn’t it a bit much?” The post was hit with a barrage of criticism over its focus on graffiti rather than refugees.

“If you are going to criticize graffiti, then don’t repeat human rights violation,” one comment read.

As of Thursday afternoon, the bureau’s post had been retweeted more than 10,000 times and had attracted over 2,000 comments.

Japanese immigration facilities have long been criticized inside and outside the country for their lengthy detention periods for foreign nationals who lack residency status and face deportation orders. They are not immediately repatriated if their home countries refuse to accept them or if they seek refugee status.

More than a dozen people have died from illness or suicide at immigration facilities since 2007. Earlier this year at the Tokyo bureau, staff were found to have withheld treatment for a Turkish man for about one month, even though he had complained of pain after undergoing an appendectomy.

In April, an Indian man died at a detention center in Ibaraki Prefecture in an apparent suicide. According to the East Japan Immigration Center, guards at the facility found the man, who was in his 30s, in a shower room with a towel wrapped around his neck.

An official of the bureau said its tweet was not intended to “fight back” against what was written on the sidewalk.

“We have an obligation to accept criticism over immigration control policies, but we tweeted in the hope of warning (about graffiti) because it will cause trouble to others who have nothing to do with the issue.”

Koichi Kodama, a lawyer familiar with immigration detention issues, said: “Graffiti could be a crime. But there are some practices that the Tokyo immigration bureau should also reflect on. … I think the way it acted was childish.”

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