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My daughter has some problems with shyness as well. I will never forget the time I had to leave her with my inlaws so I could go to work, and she would not stop crying. I cried all the way to work thinking that I was so horrible for forcing her to do something she didn't want to do (luckily she stopped crying when I was out of sight). She's gotten better now (she's 15 months), but there are definitely times when she reverts back to being shy.
We found that if we had the new person give her some sort of treat she would warm up to them faster (usually fruit snacks or marshmallows...our daughter is a sugar-fiend). I'd stay close to her for a while, and then once I thought she was comfortable with them I'd get a little further away until I was out of the room.
Good luck with everything!
(If it helps at all I was a shy kid, too. My mom says once she got me into dance classes I started to open up a bit, and I'm really not shy anymore. I think all kids go through a shy phase, and eventually grow out of it :) )
You may need to sign them up for a few mommy and me classes to help them socialize. Talk to your pediatrician as well about their shyness and try to see if there is something she suggests. I know there are a few medical issues that could be causing their distress. Sensory issues are a common problem at this age and can be helped with a little bit of therapy. Good luck and let us know how it goes.