UK veterans hail Italian matron's generosity to refugees

 LUCCA, Tuscany - An 81-year-old woman, who offered free accommodation to refugees, has been awarded the Monte San Martino Trust prize, set up by UK veterans to promote UK-Italy ties, the Fatto Quotidiano reported.

 Ortensia Mele, a retired art teacher from Roseto degli Abruzzi, received the “Moral Courage” award for her generosity and “sense of common humanity” after “loaning” her second home to a refugee family escaping war-torn Syria.

 Ms Mele bought the home to generate income to offset a meagre pension but it was television images of migrants drowning at sea that motivated her to host the family.

 “There were so many dead at sea … it’s a miserable thing that just can’t continue,” Ortensia Mele said. “The rent? Of course it was convenient, but those dead at sea … for me it is the only way to be able to rest.”

 Funded by former British servicemen, the Monte San Martino Trust honours the memory of Italians who risked their own lives to hide and host British prisoners of war fleeing Nazis and fascists during World War II.

 Late ex-British officer Frank Adams owes his life to such heroic deeds. After escaping from a prison camp in the Parma region, he was able to return home safely with the help of Tuscan locals. 

 According to Frank’s son, Andrew Adams, 61, we should constantly question our own conscience - “We must always ask ourselves, what would we have done then?” Adams said. “This is why we want to give recognition to those who set an example today … it is not a program that looks to the past, but to the future.”

 Ms Mele said her only way to help these refugees was to put “a drop in the ocean”.

 “It’s just a drop, of course,” she said. “But the sea is made of many drops.”

 Beneficiaries of Ms Mele’s “drop”, the Krikor family - Dikran, 50, Linda, 38, and Antranig, 10 - escaped Syria after a bomb destroyed their home in Aleppo.