CROIX DES BOUQUETS - The 33 children rescued from an alleged kidnapping by Americans who claim to be missionaries huddled together late on Sunday at an orphanage outside Port-au-Prince, visibly mistrustful of adults.

A one-year-old girl, dressed in red and surrounded by children aged four, five and seven, glared at adults who came to find out how she was doing.

She firmly clutched the hands of a friend, who seemed to be about four years old, seated on a bench next to her.

The children were rescued from being illegally taken out of Haiti by Americans who say they belong to a US-based charity.

Patricia Vargas of SOS Children said that for legal reasons the children's identities cannot be revealed.

Vargas answered a call from Haitian authorities to meet the children, who were returned from the border with the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

"The majority of these children have families. Some of the older ones said their parents are alive, and some gave an address and phone numbers," Vargas said.

Haitian police on Friday seized five men and five women with US passports, as well as two Haitians, as they tried to cross into the Dominican Republic with the children aboard a bus, Haitian authorities said.

Haitian culture and communications minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said the children had no documents.

While the children rested at the SOS Village, the one-year-old girl did not loosen the grip on her friend's hand.

The older children take turns protecting her, sitting her on their laps and giving her warm hugs.

Inside the SOS Village scores of volunteers do not hide their shock over the news.

"Even if we had elements to suspect that this was happening in Haiti after the earthquake, it is a shock," said SOS spokesperson Georg Willeit.

Willeit takes visitors around one of the centre's cabins, which is decorated like a home, but also makes sure that no outsider questions the children.

"Several of them were very scared last night," Willeit said.

Three teenage girls were taking special care of "the baby", a girl of about seven months who arrived on Saturday so malnourished and dehydrated that she spent the night in hospital.

"The little girl has trouble eating, she does not know how to," Willeit said.

Haitian officials have warned that child traffickers could take advantage of the chaos after the quake, and that legitimate adoption agencies may rush to take orphans before conducting proper checks.

The 7.0-magnitude quake on January 12 killed 170000 people, made more than one million homeless and left many children vulnerable in Haiti.

Volunteers say that after the quake parents flocked to the orphanage carrying pictures to identify their children, hoping to find them there.

Nearly half of Haiti's population is under 18, and children are seen at all hours in refugee camps and in the rubble-covered streets. - Sapa-AFP