'Syrian Boys' Juman al-Najem and his brother Limar record single calling for peace in their homeland

'We are doing this single, ‘Peace in the World’, to end the violence in Syria and the whole world'

From its star footballer Neymar to the popular country singer Gusttavo Lima, Brazil has fallen for two young Syrian brothers who have launched a pop career three years after fleeing their war-torn homeland.

Juman al-Najem, 10, and his seven-year-old brother Limar have become the poster children for Brazil’s open-door policy, which has offered humanitarian visas to 2,000 Syrian refugees since 2013 – more than any other country in Latin America – and now they plan to record a single calling for peace in Syria.

The pair, known in English as the “Syrian Boys”, arrived in the capital, Brasilia, from the southern Syrian city of Sweida with their parents, having lost a cousin in the war, and said they feared they would also have died if they had stayed.

Under the direction of a Brazilian producer, the brothers started singing lessons and have recorded music in Portuguese and Arabic. They have previously appeared on prime-time TV, and received a message from Brazilian football international Neymar saying that he hoped they “find peace” in Brazil. Now they plan to record the single  – alongside top Brazilian pop stars – in the hope it will help publicise the plight of those still in Syria as the civil war in the country continues. 

“We are doing this single, ‘Peace in the World’, to end the violence in Syria and the whole world,” said Juman, adding that the idea was inspired by Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World”.

His brother Limar added: “People will listen and tell others to stop making war. A lot of people are dying, innocent children dead on the street.”

Limar said he was under no illusion that getting to Brazil saved the lives of his family. “[In Syria] there are guns everywhere, killing people and children ... If we were still there, we think we would no longer be alive.”

The brothers recently received a surprise visit from their idol, Gusttavo Lima, for the popular magazine TV show Fantastico. They said Lima’s style of music, known in Brazil as sertanejo or country music, existed in Syria as well. “We really like Syrian music,” said Limar.  “There’s pop, funk, a kind of country music.” Lima is on the list of artists the boys wish to collaborate with on the new single, although the final line-up has not yet been confirmed.

Yet as the boys’ public profile grows, the plight of many other Syrian refugees in Brazil continues. While the country has won plaudits for accepting refugees, particularly as many countries in Europe dither over taking them, the paperwork is just the beginning.

Support is limited, and while refugees have the right to work, finding a job or a home remains difficult. Campaigners have suggested that along with giving refugees legal status, Brazil should also be looking at offering more support for those with specific needs, such as women at risk and survivors of violence.

“As well as open doors, Brazil also needs robust policies of integration and acceptance in society,” said Camila Asano, foreign policy co-ordinator at Conectas, a human rights NGO based in São Paulo.

For the Syrian Boys and their family, though, Brazil has offered not only refuge, but also a future. 

“We miss friends and family a lot, but Brazil is really, really good,” said the boys’ father Riad. “Here in Brazil, people are our family. I think it’s great the boys are singing and it’s nice when people talk of us.

“When we have money, we will help people there in Syria and here – those who are needy,” he said.