From dream to nightmare: Afghan 'Little Messi' forced to flee

Murtaza Ahmadi became an Internet sensation after wearing a plastic bag Lionel Messi Argentina shirt went viral. AFP

However, Murtaza's fortunes have quickly taken a devastating downtown after his family were forced to flee their home in the Jaghori district of Ghazni provincel in November following clashes between government forces and the Taliban.

The story of Murtaza Ahmadi, the "little Afghan Messi", had moved the world in 2016.

"We couldn't take any of our belongings, we left only with our lives, " Murtaza's mother Shafiqa was quoted as saying during an interview with her face partly covered with a scarf. Murtaza got to meet Messi - the Argentine global player and FC Barcelona star - and even stood on the field with him when Messi's club Barcelona played a friendly match in Qatar.

Murtaza's family belongs to the Shiite-denominated Hazara ethnic group, who were targeted by the Sunni Taliban in the attacks.

Barcelona forward Messi, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, met with the youngster after the image emerged 2016. Hundreds of people - civilians, soldiers, and insurgents - were killed in the outbreak of violence.

The United Nations, in a short report, reported "families repeatedly displaced in search of safe places", "burned houses" and "violation of worldwide humanitarian rules".

This is not the first time Murtaza's family have escaped from their home.

"(They) said if they capture him, they will cut him into pieces", Murtaza's mother Shafiqa told AFP.

"The danger of the Taliban coming back is high, going back is not an option", she added.

Murtaza was given an official Messi Argentina shirt. Courtesy Unicef
Murtaza was given an official Messi Argentina shirt. Courtesy Unicef

Sports were rarely tolerated under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, and the Kabul football stadium was a well-known venue for stonings and executions.

At the moment, Afghan security forces are pushing back the Taliban in Jaghori, but Shafiqa and her family prefers their present location.

On the other hand, Little Murtaza can't wait to reunite with his precious football and jersey from Messi.

The boy and his family were also forced to flee in 2016, when they went to Pakistan after being threatened by local extremist groups.

"Local strongmen were calling and saying, "You have become rich, pay the money you have received from Messi or we will take your son'," she said". "And the threats have resumed", shakes Shafiqa. But Murtaza did not go to school for fear of being kidnapped.

Murtaza's older brother Houmayoun, who made the Messi plastic bag jersey, said: "We are anxious something bad will happen if they know who Murtaza is".

More than 300,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of 2018, the United Nations says. "We are afraid that something bad will happen if someone comes to know", said the 17-year-old. "Messi miss me too, when I see him again, I will tell him Salam and how you go He will answer me: it goes and be careful Then I will accompany him on the football field and watch him play", he says with his child's words.

Murtaza wants to get his ball and his jerseys "to play with".

'I miss Messi, ' he added.

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