Every morning I wake up, I’m thankful. It’s like I’ve won a million pounds. I don’t make New Year resolutions, and I’m no Holy Joe, but I do my best to live a good, honest life.
While many will be making resolutions about getting fit, losing weight and cutting down on the alcohol, I think it is good to remind ourselves of what we have in this country. Democracy, welfare, education, and our health care system. However imperfect it might seem sometimes, we are very fortunate. Many others aren’t so lucky.
In 1999, Elton Gashi, a 16-year-old Albanian Kosovar, turned up in our gym in Wincobank, inspired by a book on Naseem Hamed given to him by an English social worker. Elton hardly spoke any English but said he wanted to be a boxer.
He fled the Kosovan city of Peja in November 1998, stowed away in the spare-tyre compartment of a lorry on the Macedonian border. Forty-eight hours earlier, he had returned from another city to find his family home razed to the ground by the Serbian police. His mother, who was a doctor, his father, who was an engineer, his sister and uncle had all been taken away and later murdered. He used cars, lorries, speedboats, trains and buses, passing illegally through several countries until he arrived in York. It cost him £2,500 to get there.
The Home Office guidelines give minors permission to stay in the UK. When he turned 18, he was snatched during the night and put in a detention centre prior to deportation. I was his one phone call. I vouched for him and put up the bail-bond to get him out. His asylum application was repeatedly refused. The judge told me that I only wanted to keep him here to make money out of him as a boxer. How ridiculous. Elton had nothing and if he had been sent back to Kosovo would surely have been killed.
It took years of struggle, but eventually he was granted asylum. He has led an exemplary life here, has his own family, is a qualified accountant and translator for the Sheffield asylum and refugee centre. His story encapsulates everything I love about this country.
In Kosovo, Elton was Albanian, Kosovan and a Muslim.
In Sheffield, no one cares what he is. Sheffield is our paradise.