Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) — Ten Americans charged with trafficking in Haiti defended their plan to bus 33 children into the Dominican Republic, saying their intention was to get them to a temporary shelter.
“We came into Haiti to help those that really had no other source of help,” said Laura Silsby, a member of the group. “We are trusting the truth will be revealed, and we are praying for that.”
The five men and five women are from New Life Children’s Refuge, an Idaho-based charity. They said they were trying to move the children from Port-au-Prince into the Dominican Republic.
According to the group, the children did not have any passports. Government approval is needed for any Haitian children to leave the country.
A senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the case said there was no indication of child trafficking.
“It appears their orphanage was damaged and they were moving the children to their facility in the [Dominican Republic] but failed to obtain exit visas from Haiti,” said the official who was not authorized to speak on the record.
The Rev. Clint Henry, the senior pastor with the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, told CNN affiliate KIVI that the 10 are part of a group working to establish an orphanage in the Dominican Republic for the youngest victims of the January 12 earthquake that devastated much of the country.
Henry said some of the children had suffered physical injuries and need medical assistance.
“Our team was falsely arrested today, and we are doing everything we can from this end to clear up the misunderstanding that has occurred in Port-au-Prince,” a statement on the church’s Web site said Saturday night.
The statement said the children were being rescued from “one or more orphanages” that had been damaged in the quake.
Jeanne Bernard-Pierre, general director for Haiti’s Institute of Social Welfare, said the children will be interviewed in the coming days to determine whether they have any living relatives.
“When they arrived, some of the children were crying and saying, ‘I want to see my parents,'” Bernard-Pierre said.
She said the government’s ministry of social affairs will attempt to reunite the children with any family members and provide psychological assistance.
But the group said it believed the children were orphaned, and it was going to house them in a converted hotel in the Dominican Republic. Officials in the country had agreed to allow them in without the required paperwork, Silsby said.
U.S. embassy officials visited the Americans over the weekend at a jail near the airport in Port-au-Prince, where they are being detained. The group said it was being treated well, and was holding on to its faith.
“God is our provider and God gives us strength and comfort,” said group member Carla Thompson. “We are having a great time. We have our Bibles and we are OK.”