"Obviously, the usage of the Transall [military transport aircraft] is not ruled out. But only in the event that all civilian transport capacities are exhausted and if it does not affect the German army's priority missions, then could such troop carriers be [an option]," she said.
But the plan was swiftly criticized in human rights circles, with Bernd Mesovic from NGO Pro Asyl telling The Local that "deportations are clearly not in the remit of the army."
"This suggestion would hardly be constitutional," he said. "The army can be used in cases of natural catastrophes such as flooding. But this isn't a natural catastrophe or an especially serious accident – which according to Article 35 of the constitution would allow for military operations within the country.“
"Expelling asylum seekers using military vehicles would furthermore have a disastrous symbolic effect. It would signal: the German government is acting militarily against refugees,“ Mesovic concluded.
With a record one million asylum seekers expected to arrive in Germany this year, Berlin wants to speed up the process by which unsuccessful applicants are returned quickly to their home countries, in order to free up resources to provide protection to those fleeing war and persecution.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that it was "clear that for repatriation by air, civilian aircraft would be used as a priority".
"But in the event that civilian capacity is insufficient, then ... we will look at possibly using army aircraft," he added.
Besides Transall military aircraft which can transport between 50 and 60 people each, the German army also has two Airbus A310 troop carriers, which are fitted out like civilian planes and each seat 200 people.