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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
30 August 2007

Statement by Filippo Grandi, UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General, at the signing ceremony for the contribution by the OPEC Fund for International Development

Vienna, 30 August 2007

Your Excellency,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you in Vienna today. On behalf of UNRWA's Commissioner-General, Karen AbuZayd, I wish to thank the OPEC Fund for International Development for its generous support to UNRWA's microfinance activities in the occupied Palestinian territory through the PalFund which UNRWA is administering on behalf of OFID. UNRWA is extremely grateful for the extension of OFID's support to the PalFund by an additional US$4.5 million.

UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was created in 1950, and is therefore one of the oldest UN agencies.

UNRWA employs over 27,000 staff members and operates some 900 facilities providing education, health, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, emergency activities and, of course, microfinance, for a growing population of over four million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza.

UNRWA has served Palestine refugees in times of conflict and despair, and in times of dialogue and hope. Throughout almost six decades of turbulent history, it has provided generations of refugees with opportunities for human development.

Many such opportunities have been made available, for the past decade and a half, through our Microfinance and Microenterprise Programme. UNRWA supports best practice and self-sufficient microfinance as the most effective means for Palestinian enterprises and households - especially those with the least resources – to help themselves. By continuing to support microenterprises in difficult political and economic times, UNRWA is making a commitment toward survival, recovery and transition.

Palestinians today are going through one of the most dramatic and difficult periods of their troubled history – from the political, social and economic points of view. Much has been said – and rightly so – about restrictions imposed upon the movement of people and goods in and around the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian small businesses and microenterprises face formidable challenges as they operate in a state of economic and financial siege that is limiting their capacity for normal development and growth, with markets severed from customary trading partners. In this context, UNRWA continues its financial commitment to the microenterpise sector to ensure that businesses survive and can recover lost markets when times improve.

The unique partnership fostered between OFID and UNRWA through the PalFund has created a resource of hope that PalFund clients can draw on to secure their businesses, sustain their lives and invest in the education and health of their families.

OFID's original contribution to the PalFund of US$2.5 million enabled UNRWA to finance over 2,600 loans to Palestinian microenterprises in the West Bank and Gaza. As clients repaid these loans, UNRWA was able to finance a further 6,600 loans worth US$7.5 million from the trust fund. Thus, over the past three years the PalFund financed over 9,200 microenterprise loans valued at just under US$10 million, almost a quarter of which were to women microentrepreneurs.

OFID's latest contribution will extend the PalFund to almost US$7 million, making OFID the largest single sponsor of UNRWA's microfinance activities: activities that have financed a portfolio of 118,500 loans worth US$126 million to Palestinian microenterprises over the past 15 years.

In these difficult times, Palestinians – and the Palestine refugees whom UNRWA continues to serve – need above all concrete signs to rebuild hope and confidence. These signs are crucial for the much-threatened stability and prosperity of the Middle East. Microfinance cultivates hope and self-reliance. OFID's support will ensure that UNRWA can extend its services to thousands more Palestinian microenterpirses for the coming years. It will also contribute to combat the dangerous symptoms of economic despair and loss of dignity, by providing crucial resources that Palestinian households and businesses can use to build a better future.

Thank you.

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