The failure to provide an education for young Syrian refugees runs the risk of creating a generation of discontented youths and a recruiting ground for extremists, says Gordon Brown.
The UN education envoy and former prime minister is calling on the international community for urgent help for refugees in Lebanon.
Hundreds of thousands of children have been displaced by Syria’s war.
“This is one of biggest refugee crises since the Second World War,” he said.
“It’s one of the biggest humanitarian tragedies. In the winter in Lebanon, some children have died through the lack of provision,” said Mr Brown.
Lebanon’s education minister Elias Bou Saab told the BBC that the country was at risk of being destabilised by the number of refugees and if there was no support for young people “the crisis will not be limited to Lebanon”.
If the refugee camps were exploited by extremists, he said, the international community would also be “paying a price”.
Referring to the attacks in Paris, he said: “These terrorists, those extremists have no boundaries.”
Mr Brown, who has been holding meetings on the refugee crisis with the Lebanese government, warns that as well as food and warmth, there is an emergency in providing education for young people who are likely to spend many years in refugee camps.
More than one million Syrian people are believed to have taken refuge in Lebanon, many of them families with children.
“We know that if children are on the streets, if they’re ignored, if they’re neglected there’s a danger of child slavery, of child labour, child marriage, child trafficking.
“There’s also a danger of children being radicalised and joining extreme organisations and out of frustration people taking action that they would never have considered,” he told the BBC.
But Mr Brown says that there is a practical plan to provide schools for almost 500,000 school-age refugees. The authorities in Lebanon can put this in place, despite a huge influx of refugees, which for the UK would be the equivalent of an extra 12 million people, he says.
“The Lebanese government has done something quite unique. It has offered to open up its schools on a double-shift system to children from Syria.
“The problem is not that we don’t have the facilities and not that we don’t have a plan.”
What is missing, he says, is sufficient funding, and he will be attending the World Economic Forum this week in Davos, to try to raise $160m (£105m).
“This is an opportunity we should not waste, and the danger is that every month that goes past and the international community refuses to fund this, we have more and more young people who become discontented, disenchanted and lose the opportunity to make a contribution through their skills.”
Mr Brown says at present only 2% of humanitarian aid is targeted at education – which means many young refugees are without access to school and college, leaving them without the skills and qualifications needed to find work in adult life.
“Unless you invest in educating children and getting them into school you deprive a whole generation of hope.
“It’s hope that education gives that you can return to normal, that you can plan for the future, that you can have children who are going to be properly educated for jobs, even if they’re in camps or in settlements for 10 years.”
Without international intervention to support the Lebanese authorities, he says: “The risks are very clear.”
“Many children have been brought into child labour. Many children have been trafficked. Some young girls have been forced into child marriage. Some have been sold… and of course some have been radicalised.
“And it’s important to recognise that we can do something about it now. We can do something before it becomes a problem for Lebanon and a problem for other countries.”
Mr Brown will tell world leaders and technology billionaires at Davos there are refugee families “suffering this winter” and “for £7 or £8 per week, we can provide the schooling, the shelter, the books, the warmth, the school meals that make a tremendous difference to the chances of a child surviving”.
Lebanon faces an overwhelming problem with Syrian refugees who risk becoming a “lost generation”, says education minister, Mr Bou Saab.
If children miss several years of school it becomes increasingly difficult to return them to education, he says.
“If we don’t act fast, you will have an entire generation that is lost. They don’t get an education, they’re not able to deal with the future. They may end up on the street. They may end up in a terrorist camp. They may end up in prostitution – you name it. Already we are seeing some of it – violence.”
There were already problems with crime among displaced, dispossessed families, who had already spent years in camps. But even the jails were overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees.
“We don’t have any places in our jails. We cannot put people in jails, we don’t have any more spaces in jail.
“This is part of the crisis and I think the international community will also equally be paying a price for that if we don’t resolve it. The crisis will not be limited to Lebanon. We already saw what’s coming out of Lebanon and Syria in France recently.
“These terrorists, those extremists have no boundaries. They will move on from one place to another and they will affect a lot of the uneducated children who are about to start a new life.
“That’s why it’s important to save these people. To try and put them in school. To give them hope. Without hope you will lose them.”