QUETTA - The young Afghan boy who captivated hearts after he was pictured wearing a plastic bag as an improvised Lionel Messi jersey has appealed to the UN refugee agency after fleeing Afghanistan.

Murtaza Ahmadi became an Internet sensation in January after his older brother posted the picture on Facebook, with the Argentine superstar sending autographed jerseys to his tiny fan via UNICEF.

But his family has now fled with him to Pakistan, with his father Mohammad Arif Ahmadi telling AFP in Quetta Tuesday that they have appealed to the UNHCR after receiving threatening phone calls.

Ahmadi said the phone calls by unknown people began as the media spotlight turned on his five-year-old son.

"I felt my family and I were in danger so decided to leave Afghanistan," he said, adding that they had first travelled to Islamabad before arriving in Quetta.

But he feels unsafe there also, he said, adding that he has submitted a bid to the UNHCR to be sent to "any safe country".

"I do not have any choice," he said, adding he wants a life for his family that has some "sense of security".

His son and some of his family members are hoping they will be sent to Spain - where Messi plays for giants Barcelona - so that Murtaza can fulfil his dreams of becoming a football superstar, he added.

A UNHCR spokesman in Quetta confirmed the family had applied for emigration and said the agency was investigating their application.

Reuters adds: After pictures of Murtaza went viral on social media, his family feared that after becoming famous worldwide, he could be abducted by kidnappers for ransom. His home is in the central Afghan region of Ghazni where security has been fragile and where kidnappings are common.

"These people felt that the different gangster and terrorist groups in Afghanistan might kidnap him," his uncle Wahid Ahmadi said in Quetta.

"There are such gangs that can kidnap him and then demand ransom. His father does not have so much money. That is why they have shifted from there (Afghanistan) to this place."

For the moment, Murtaza's dream of meeting his idol has not come true but his family said they continued to hope.

"We request the government here, the Afghan government, the United Nations, and any football associations to fulfil Murtaza's wish of meeting Messi," Ahmadi said.