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Syrian Refugees in Canada and Cosmopolitanism

Cosmopolitanism, Global Citizenship, and Syrian Refugees in Canada


Canada, as a nation, pledged globally to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees before February 2016 with this initiative being ongoing (Government of Canada, 2017). This policy has left the nation divided on Canada’s roles and responsibilities within the global community. While there has been extensive media attention drawn to the United States of America’s recent problematic policies pertaining to immigration and security, the global community has been led to believe that Canada is a progressive and accepting nation. However, a study conducted in 2016 by the Angus Reid Institute and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found that Canadians aren’t as accepting and globally conscious as the Federal Government’s rhetoric has led global citizens to believe. This study found that 79% of Canadians felt that priority should be given to Canada’s own economic and workforce needs over the prioritization of people in crisis abroad (Proctor, 2016). Furthermore, 68% of Canadians believed that minorities should do more to fit in with mainstream Canadian/American society (Proctor, 2016). As both of these polls reveal strong nationalistic ways of thinking, the cosmopolitanism and global citizenship of Canadian citizens may be debated. As cosmopolitanism is the ideology of all human-beings being a part of a global community, having a shared set of morals, rights, and mutual responsibilities; such poll results encourage the exploration of the varying challenges and limitations of globalization. With the global community and global events continuing to become more interlinked due to market deregulation, climactic events, security instability, and transportation technologies; an increased emphasis needs to be placed on the duality of cosmopolitanism with individuals being encouraged to situate themselves within a global setting. It is through elaborating on this ideology that the contrast between centripetal geopolitical forces towards and the opposing centrifugal forces that have deeply divided geography and history may be challenged.

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Cosmopolitanism, Globalization, and Global Citizenship

The ideology of cosmopolitanism has continually evolved throughout time, being debated as to the nature of its affiliation with globalization, nationalism, privilege, and global citizenship. As it was first theorized in Ancient Greece, cosmopolitanism was viewed as a manner in which an individual’s loyalty lay not solely with the state or the relationships of kin and community, but with a universal shared identity – furthermore, becoming a ‘citizen of the universe’. This ideology of one belonging to a global community, as opposed to a nation-state has been discussed and debated across various works, with each theorist contributing to the narrative of what cosmopolitanism is and how it is subsequently linked to nationalism. With cosmopolitanism and nationalism occurring concurrently, the manner of scale in which each exist has been examined and evaluated. With global interactions becoming increasingly interconnected due to neoliberal policy and shared markets, the relation between individual, state, and identity has been increasingly discussed over the past two decades.

It is due to such recent institutional structures and change that scholar Pheng Cheah argues that cosmopolitanism is dependent and sustained by the state or institution. As Cheah views current institutions to have a global reach in their regulatory function, she further theorizes that power is embedded within regulation and that political consciousness or solidarity is dependent state functions, of which can be further influenced by the individual. Her writing further builds upon the theories of Immanuel Kant who initially viewed cosmopolitanism as having four central modalities. These pillars of cosmopolitanism included: (1) a world federation as the legal and political institutional basis for cosmopolitanism as a form of right; (2) the historical basis of cosmopolitanism in world trade; (3) the idea of a global public sphere; and (4) the importance of cosmopolitan culture in instilling a sense of belonging to humanity. However, while several of Kant’s theoretical foundations are still applicable today, the majority of his work does not yield answer for current global circumstances. Due to his work originating in the 18th century, his ideologies were unable to reflect upon the current globalized state of cosmopolitanism. As Kant believed that state had a fundamental role in the moral-cultural education of its citizens, his work did not take into account the individual agency and the violence imposed on various groups- further limiting the notion of global citizenship.

Such ideologies of cosmopolitanism being dependent on the state are further contested in the works of fellow cosmopolitan theorist Keely Badger. As her work in response to Kant highlights the ethnic, religious and racial conflicts that continue to degrade life quality, human rights and freedom – she highlights that cosmopolitanism is based on an individual’s education and their feelings of obligation to mankind, free of external government or temporal power. Contrary to the formalized structures presented by Cheah, Badger views cosmopolitanism as being dependent on conversations across boundaries of identity – including national, religious or other; further allowing for an evolving cosmopolitan worldview. Furthermore, Badger emphasizes human plurality of being of the highest value, as well as, through discrediting state violence. Her work continues to further call cosmopolitanism to be centered upon a need for the toleration of the beliefs of others and what one may fail to understand. This notion of individual agency is also agreed upon and addressed in Cheah’s work, as she addresses cosmopolitanism in respect to the relation between cosmopolitanism and nationalism. Due to Cheah highlighting a distinction between the normativity of morality and that of cosmopolitan right, she argues that cosmopolitanism is not identical to moral freedom but is merely an institutional vehicle for its actualization. While this indicates that cosmopolitanism is not necessarily opposed to nationalism, her writing shows that solidarity associated with cosmopolitanism is not affiliated with national character. Therefore, her view of cosmopolitanism is not opposed to nationalism but to absolute statism. While both articles present the limitations to nationalism and the potential violence that has resulted from nation-state tendencies, Cheah and Badger call for the role of non-government organizations (NGOs) to fill a leadership role in our agglomerated world. Both authors theorize that such organizations have a role to administer international cooperation, economic development, international law, and human rights. However, the authors discuss potential limitations of such organizations, of which can be exemplified in Badger’s critique of the United Nations and how the organization walks a fine line between exercising its governance power and working within the confines of conflicting sovereignties. While the work of Cheah does not mention grass-roots initiatives, Badger’s article goes on to call for the need of grass-roots NGOs to combat the rampant neoliberal capitalism that has propagated globally since the 1990s. However, she further theorizes that this manner of overcoming neoliberalism can only be sustained through continual consciousness transcending and overcoming the constraining rhetoric presented by nationalism/statism driven by corporations, as well as nation states. Therefore, it is suggested that cosmopolitanism is distanced from the state and nationalistic identification, as cosmopolitanism from below via normative and politically oriented forms of social action are determined to be more powerful in cultivating a shared cosmopolitan consciousness. Nevertheless, this argument is challenged within limitations of Cheah’s writing as she questions who is privileged as being cosmopolitan and how are transnational underclasses or marginalized groups limited from participating in such ideologies and what constitutes as legitimate solidarity. As the works go onto later agree that social and political movements are needed to challenge nationalistic thinking through the use of non-violent institutional groundings and uprising in attempt to disrupt political loyalties, allegiances, and group identities. Such anarchic ideologies of social disruption are later discussed in the work of Badger, as she highlights the potential usage of social media and the Internet for physical mobilization of cosmopolitan resistance, as well as, facilitating uprisings from below. Such examples in the writing included anti-sweatshop campaigns, democratic revolutions, and shifting conscience of the global community. As both Cheah and Badger discuss the anarchistic nature of cosmopolitanism, this ideology is further built upon in the work of Graham Maddox. As he initially highlights cosmopolitanism’s love for mankind and the rejection of state imposed thinking- his writing contrasts the work of the other author’s, stating that ‘the [average] cosmopolitan’ is a pacifist at heart. His work goes on to challenge the previous writing of Cheah and Badger, highlighting that while the global population has become more interconnected due to globalization- this may have resulted in the rise of nationalistic ideologies and xenophobia. His writing goes on to exemplify this concept by highlighting the prominence of global terrorism and the impact this has had on minority populations in Australia. As global consciousness has the potential to make people nervous and resentful, there may be a shift from cosmopolitan thinking often resulting in increased xenophobia with vulnerable groups becoming scape goats for the public to inflict violence upon.  Similar to the work of Cheah, he addresses the role of capitalism and neoliberalism in relation the power struggle with corporate or nationalistic power often prevailing, resulting in the will of the people receding – addressing the masculine nature of Western dominant thought and hegemony. While Maddox’s work address cosmopolitanism in Australia, a nation that has followed a similar colonial narrative as Canada – his work has tied in closely to fellow theorist, Jean-Francois Caron. While the work of Caron agrees with the other theorists that cosmopolitanism can be seen as a superior to national patriotism in regards to the inclusion, she highlights that this idealistic moral posture of cosmopolitanism has no chance of replacing national identities. As she highlights that while national identities are not static and remain intangible throughout time, it is through national narratives and collective mentalities that circumstances are challenged and limits are reinterpreted. Similar to the work of Maddox her work highlights Canada’s cosmopolitan worldview in relation to the nation’s colonial history, adding that it was a distrust of American culture and a sense of ‘moral superiority’ that led to Canada’s national rhetoric being reinforced. While she highlights the nation’s identity as being inherently anti-American, she also gives praise to Canada’s sense of multiculturalism – stating it as a success story, contrary to other countries where such diversity often results in violence. This is later exemplified as she goes on further proclaim that immigrants coming to Canada are welcomed to society and that inter-racial marriage serves as a benchmark for Canada’s openness. However, her thoughts in relation to Canada’s rooted cosmopolitan nature can be challenged due to this work being problematic, failing to account for the complexities of multiculturalism, the experiences of minority individuals, and the continued need for Canada to be more globally consciousness and welcoming of foreigners. The shortcomings and complexities presented within the work of the four cosmopolitan theorists can be further exemplified and expanded upon through an evaluation of Canadians society’s worldviews and realities in relation to the intake of Syrian refugees. As Canada is proclaimed to be one of the most multicultural and globally conscious nations in the world, it is necessary for Canadians to reflect inward to question how we situate ourselves globally, as well as to critically examine the ‘#refugeeswelcome’ initiative.

Syrian Refugees in Canada

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 960,000 refugees are currently in need of resettlement in a third country (Martin, 2016). These are refugees who, according to the UNHCR, can neither return to their country of origin nor integrate into their country of first asylum (Martin, 2016). Together, the international community has committed to resettle around 80,000 refugees each year with Canada resettling approximately 10% of this total (Government of Canada, 2017). The Canadian government’s current goal is to resettle between 8% and 12% of all refugees (Government of Canada, 2017). Several factors contributed to the Canadian public’s initial response to the Syrian refugee crisis, including public outcry for support following the death of Ayan Kurdi, a Syrian child who drown while travelling by boat from Turkey to Greece – a child of a family that had been refused resettlement to Canada; and, the 2015 national election serving as a platform for all prime ministerial candidates to debate the ideology of accepting refugees openly. Similar to the ideologies relating to media and the Internet presented in the article of Badger, this serves as an example of how cosmopolitan media has resulted in public conscientiousness and outcry. However, this also exemplifies the limitations of global citizenship presented by Maddox and Cheah as to how migration has become a political issue with bureaucrats, policy makers, and citizens (in a limited manner) determining who can and can’t be a citizen of a country or the world. At this time, Canadian citizens also wanted the federal government to match the rhetoric of Canadian identity as compassionate, openly engaged in the international community and open to newcomers.

The newly elected government’s commitment to resettle Syrians was primarily driven by the momentum of the election, and later by the need to demonstrate the new government’s capacity to swiftly implement promises. It is through this shift in political being that Cheah’s theory of the state being made up of the citizens may be illustrated due to the majority of Canadian voters presenting more liberal or globally conscious values. The Canadian government further committed to resettling more than 25,000 Syrian refugees specifically between November, 2015 and February, 2016 with commitments extending into 2017 (Government of Canada, 2017). To date, a total of 40,081 Syrian refugees have resettled across 350 Canadian communities since the initiative was first introduced in 2015 (Government of Canada, 2017). Of these Syrian refugees 21,876 are Government Assisted, meaning that the government will provide the refugee (and their family, if applicable) with accommodation, clothing, food, assistance finding employment, and other resettlement assistance for one year or until they are able to support themselves (Government of Canada, 2017). A further 3,931Syrian refugees were resettled as Blended Visa-Referred Refugees, being selected by the UNHCR with further support being provided by the federal government and private sponsors (Government of Canada, 2017). The remaining 14,274 Syrian refugees are privately sponsored (Government of Canada, 2017).

While the number of privately sponsored refugees has increased over recent years the Canadian government has decreased the number of Syrian refugees that are privately sponsored, further limiting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the country. It is through this permissive nature of allocating the number of citizens Canada allows within its borders, that the notion of cosmopolitanism is challenged by nationalism. As the world is theorized to be interacting on a global scale, the use of borders, immigration, and political discourse pertaining to the acceptance or bigotry towards Syrian refugees remains problematic. This connects with both Badger and Cheah’s theories as this highlights the role government plays in regulating global citizenship and movement. Through disallowing privately sponsored refugees into the country, this top-down approach challenges the bottom-up outcry and mobilization to increase the number of refugees coming into the country. While the government presents the ‘#refugeeswelcome’ rhetoric, through limiting the number of total refugees permitted into the country this representation of ‘welcoming’ may be challenged in a cosmopolitan context.

With matching and arrival times between the initial phase of the program from November 2015 to February 2016 being quick, an unrealistic expectation for private individuals or groups waiting to be matched with a new coming refugee family has resulted (Marwah, 2016). Now that the target of 25,000 Syrian Refugees has been met, the process has significantly slowed down, leaving various parties on a waiting list to provide sponsorship (Marwah, 2016).  Other groups that were matched in this process have still been waiting for refugees to arrive, with some groups being stuck with empty rented apartments, have wasted resources, and are struggling with the sponsorship morale (Marwah, 2016). Additionally, further challenges exist keeping sponsors engaged and motivated as they may not be matched until the end of the year (Marwah, 2016). This can be associated with the article of Karen Badger as her theology highlights the need for individual consciousness and a conscious civil society. Through citizens being disallowed from sponsoring a refugee, this may potentially discourage sponsorship and result in a reduction of ‘cosmopolitan thinking’ – further encouraging ‘the pacifist’ theorized by Graham Maddox. While there is a need for the Canadian Government to articulate the complexities and the timing of a resettlement initiative of this scale, this process of refugee intake needs to be re-evaluated. With complex decision-making and political structures being overseen – increased communication among partnering agencies, as well as, further patience and commitment to support refugees is needed.

There is also a need for Canadian society to reflect upon the nature of which the country accepts refugees. While there is a stark difference between the services and preconception of Syrian and non-Syrian refugees, there is a need for increased attention as to the dualistic nature of the acceptance of refugees. Primarily this difference can be seen as Syrian refugees who arrived after the Liberal government came to power do not – in contrast to refugees of other nationalities and previous Syrian refugees – have to repay the government’s travel loan which enabled their journey to Canada (McMurdo, 2016). While the theory of Caron highlights a multicultural nation, full of welcoming and accepting individuals (as opposed to the USA), this does not accredit the challenges refugees may face upon re-settling. This may be related to this two-tiered system of refugee intake, as the nation ‘being cosmopolitan’ was quick to respond to the Syrian ‘crisis’ yet was not ‘globally conscious’ as to the needs and backgrounds of past refugees.

Furthermore, while non-Syrian refugees have arrived with debt and hundreds of cases to slowly make their way through the resettlement process, some Syrian refugees have been expedited and arrived in Canada with special treatment, loan free (Marwah, 2016). By putting forward a helpful and empathetic view towards the Syrian population, the government has effectively created two classes of refugees, disregarding fairness and equality towards all marginalized refugee groups. Others, including the private sector and social services – have followed suit in offering various benefits to newly arriving Syrians to Canada. Yet, this welcome has the effect of making invisible any other refugees (Marwah, 2016).

With the recent terror attacks throughout the world, and the resulting rhetoric of islamophobia, the initiative to resettle Syrians to Canada has become an increasingly debated topic among Canadians. Similar to the work of Maddox, this notion of uncertainty, fear, and xenophobia have been present in Canada in regards to the intake of refugees. Due to security in the resettlement processing has becoming a point of public contention, the Liberal government has shared and updated regular information/data to ease the fears of Canadian citizens. However, this has not limited the number of hate crimes and racist violence imposed on minority groups (refugee or not). As the nation fears uncertainty, and has been negatively influenced by media portraying terroristic events abroad, the way Canada situates itself within the global setting could become more conscious and aware of the limitation of such thinking.

Also, disappointingly, settlement services in Canada have not yet received the same support from the government as was offered in physically resettling the refugees to Canada (McMurdo, 2016). With a huge and rapid influx of refugees, settlement services have been stretched beyond capacity, without sufficient resources to adequately address the refugees’ needs, or the time to invest in additional fundraising (McMurdo, 2016).  As a result of the scale of arrivals, enrolling the refugees in language classes and/or schools and allocating housing, along with other basic services has proven challenging (McMurdo, 2016). Certain refugees have been staying in temporary accommodation for weeks longer than usual (McMurdo, 2016). The private sector and civil society have played an active role in responding to the needs of the thousands of Syrian arrivals and to fill this gap (McMurdo, 2016).  Further training is needed for professionals to support this specific group of people and their varied needs, particularly government-assisted refugees, who have greater needs and vulnerabilities (McMurdo, 2016). Therefore, like the works of the theorists discussed in the earlier half of the paper, there is a need for civil consciousness and the support of non-government organizations and community groups to implement the services government falls short of providing. Through this anarchistic nature of cosmopolitanism and overall shared responsibility of our fellow countrymen (and women) or ‘global neighbours’, the limitations of nationalism and neoliberal globalization can be continually contested and reframed. By allowing individuals to take ownership of their behaviours on a domestic and international scale, the cosmopolitan revolution may continue to occur, further limiting the nationalistic fear and xenophobia shift the globe may current be seeing.


As the global population continues to be more interlinked, the theology of cosmopolitanism will continue to change and be reframed through future years. While it may seem that the ‘global citizen’ is being challenged ‘the most’ in recent years due to shifts towards nationalistic thinking and hate crimes increasing, the potential for globally conscious, aware citizens needs to be promoted. While this may be best done at a grass-roots, individualistic level – the potential for positive change may result. With the rhetoric surrounding Canadians and Syrian refugees might not being as ‘accepting’ as the government wants the nation to perceive it to be, increased education and interaction between Canadians and our newest refugee citizens (Syrian or not) yields the potential to break down the barriers of nationalism, further preventing ‘us’ from seeing the benefit of diversity and acceptance.


Badger, K. (2015). Cosmopolitanism and Globalization: A Project of Collectivity.

Caron, J.-F. (2012). Rooted Cosmopolitanism in Canada and Quebec. National Identities14(4), 351–366. http://doi.org/10.1080/14608944.2011.616954

Cheah, P. (2006). Cosmopolitanism. Theory, culture & society23(2-3), 486-496.

Government of Canada. (2017). #WelcomeRefugees: Key Figures. Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/welcome/milestones.asp

Maddox, G. (2015). Cosmopolitanism. Social Alternatives34(1), 3.

Martin, S. F. (2016). Rethinking Protection of Those Displaced by Humanitarian Crises. TheAmerican Economic Review106(5), 446-450.

Marwah, S. (2016, Summer). Syrian refugees in Canada: lessons learned and insights gained. Ploughshares Monitor37(2), 9+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/ps/i.do?p=CPI&sw=w&u=uvictoria&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA459227943&asid=4c7546bee52ffbb9988d6f7497ecf8c7

McMurdo, A. B. (2016). Causes and consequences of Canada’s resettlement of Syrian refugees. Forced Migration Review1(52), 82-84.

Proctor, J. (2016). CBC-Angus Reid Institute poll: Canadians want minorities to do more to ‘fit in’. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/poll-canadians-multiculturalism-immigrants-1.3784194


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