Twenty-four black balloons swayed in the wind on Thursday.
They were planted on the Plaza of the Americas, each representing half a million displaced Syrians.
On behalf of the nearly 12 million Syrians displaced by their country’s bloody civil war, members of the Arab Students’ Association at UF stood around the balloons, collecting signatures from passersby.
For several hours, the members, who planted the balloons Thursday morning, collected signatures to call for lawmakers to support legislation to allow more refugees into the U.S. and to support efforts to help those affected by the Syrian Civil War.
Mohammad Waleed, one of ASA’s members collecting signatures, said the refugee crisis is personal to him. His wife is Syrian and he has family members displaced in Europe, he said. The 27-year-old UF geomatics masters student said he wants to encourage more Syrian refugees "to come to the United States to have a safe place to live."
"I feel that I could be in their place," said Waleed, who was living in Saudi Arabia when the civil war began four years ago. "It was God’s mercy that I was outside the country at that time (the war broke out)."
Natalia Tohme was another of several ASA members affected by the refugee crisis. Of Lebanese descent, the 19-year-old UF international studies sophomore said she saw many more Syrian refugees than in the past when she visited her family in Akkar, which borders Syria, this summer.
She said if the U.S. takes in more refugees, it will alleviate pressure off countries like Lebanon.
"Of course it will affect us here," Tohme said. "(But) I don’t think it’s going to be such a great effect because we’re such a massive country. …I honestly feel like we have some room for them"
ASA collected "a little over 500 signatures" by the end of the day, club President Amanda Makhoul wrote in an email.
"I think it’s so sad what’s going on in Syria right now," said Laura Martin, a UF anthropology and Jewish studies senior who signed the petition. The 22-year-old said she wanted to support the refugees in any way she could.
Amani Flood, a 19-year-old UF digital arts and sciences sophomore, untangles a bunch of black balloons on the Plaza of the Americas on Oct. 15, 2015. Each of the 24 balloons represented 500,000 displaced Syrians in the refugee crisis. "We want to make an impact to get more refugees in the United States," said Flood, who helped collect student signatures on a petition to open the U.S. to Syrian refugees.