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Manus Island Refugees' Lives Of Misery Revealed In New Documentary

Angus McDonald's documentary Manus takes viewers inside the detention centre where detainees were trapped in misery for years.

It's night-time on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, and Yassir Hussein -- a refugee from Pakistan -- has a message for those in Australia, almost 3000km to the south.

"We are the same people, with different colours. We are watching the same Hollywood movies that you watch, we are listening to the same music that you're listening to," he tells the camera.

Hussein's words form part of 'Manus', which recently won Best Documentary Award at the St Kilda Film Festival.

Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea in 2014. Image: AAP

'Manus' director, and frequent Archibald Prize finalist, Angus McDonald, said the men featured in his film have moved audiences.

"Probably the biggest response I always get is, 'We didn't realise how peaceful and how like us those people are'," McDonald told AAP.

"Because what the film does is it lets those men, that have been there all these years, tell their own story about their plight in their own words and that's something that happens very rarely around this issue."

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Walkley award-winning journalist Olivia Rousset, who was smuggled in to Manus Island on a fishing boat alongside religious activists Jacob McKenna and father Dave Smith, captured the footage in 2017.

Facilities at the now decommissioned Manus Island Regional Processing Facility, in October 2012. Image: Getty

The short film follows the stories of the detained men while also documenting what McDonald describes as a particularly tense time on the island.

The detention centre was to be officially closed on October 31 but hundreds of men stayed, resulting in a three-week stand-off between authorities.

Food, water, power and medical attention were cut off.

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"The situation at that time was incredibly sensitive," said McDonald.

"It could have been a big issue for [the journalist and activists] if they'd been caught. They could only stay one night because the authorities got wind of their presence there."

An asylum seeker inside the local hospital in Lorengau, the capital of Manus Island. Image: Getty

The documentary ends with the men left in limbo on Manus Island.

Since then hundreds of refugees have left the island, with some sent to facilities in Port Moresby.

Additionally, more than 630 refugees have gone to the United States under a resettlement deal.

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The last four people remaining on Manus Island will be sent to Port Moresby in coming weeks -- but McDonald says this is not a solution.

"It might look on the surface that things have improved but they haven't at all," he said.

"In some ways I worry more now because having been moved and scattered around Port Moresby, it's kind of taken the whole issue out of the limelight.

"If we don't solve it properly there's every likelihood that more people could die or more people could attempt self-harm. It's just a continuation of what has been going on."

Refugees in one of the Manus Island facilities protest their treatment in 2018. Image: supplied

Last week, Afghan doctor Sayed Mirwais Rohani ended his own life, becoming the 13th person to die after being sent to Manus Island or Nauru as part of Australia's offshore immigration policy.

Award-winning author and refugee Behrouz Boochani, whose poetry appears in the documentary, said on Twitter the 32-year-old had been transferred to Australia two years ago, after four years on Manus.

"It's very clear that the major problem with this policy is that it doesn't solve anything. It only inflicts further suffering on already traumatised people," McDonald said.

Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani, on Manus. Image: supplied

The Gillard government reopened the Manus and Nauru centres to process asylum seekers arriving by boat in late 2012.

Protests, hunger strikes and self-harm have all been reported from the centres since that time.

"In 20 years time I think this whole offshore processing policy will be looked at as an incredibly dark chapter in our history," said McDonald.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Manus will be shown at Byron Bay International Film Festival on October 26 and 27. The second screening will include a Q & A with McDonald and Behrouz Boochani via Skype from PNG.