East Germany said today that more than 20,000 former citizens now living in the West were seeking to return home after complaining of loneliness and joblessness in the capitalist world.

The communist party daily Neues Deutschland published extracts today from dozens of letters allegedly sent to the country's leadership by emigrants pleading for permission to return home. The Foreign Ministry had been asked "to examine the applications," the newspaper said.

Last year, in the largest exodus since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, more than 40,000 East Germans were allowed to leave their country. Their departure is said to have escalated the requests for exit visas, and western diplomats say as many as 500,000 East Germans have filed emigration papers.

But in the first two months of this year, only 2,461 East Germans have been allowed to come to the West, according to figures released by the Inter-German Ministry in Bonn.

The full-page Neues Deutschland report, which probably was sanctioned yesterday at a meeting of the party's ruling Politburo, appeared to reflect the communist leadership's persistent quandary over how to curtail the desire of more educated and productive citizens to leave for the West.

In the past, East German authorities have sought to discourage emigration by treating visa applicants as pariahs, if not virtual traitors. Those who have settled in the West have recounted stories of being deprived of their apartments or being reassigned to menial jobs while they waited, sometimes years, for permission to emigrate.

But such methods have not stemmed the flood of applications, forcing the authorities to adopt an apparent change in tactics, western diplomats said, with emphasis on misery that may await skilled workers and professionals who leave.

Some sources of discontent cited by East German emigrants in the paper's report included unexpectedly high unemployment in the West, homesickness for family and friends, uncertain social benefits and delusions created by western television programs.

About 70 percent of the 17 million East Germans reside within range of West German television, which by all accounts influences perceptions in East Germany.

The article mentioned doctors as well as technicians and manual workers who were disappointed by an alleged lack of professional and social security in West Germany. A schoolgirl said she was deceived by her parents' hopes of a better life that they never found, while a construction worker and his family said they wanted to go back because "we found out which country is better."

Hannelore Oldenburg, 45, said she was lured to West Germany by a friend's "false promises" but was now languishing in solitude and wanted to return to her family.

In the past, few East Germans who came to the West were allowed to go back. It was unclear whether the article, besides serving to warn would-be emigrants of the risks they face in the West, also held out hope that the communist authorities may take a more benevolent view of allowing prodigal East Germans to return.

A spokesman for West Germany's Inter-German Ministry said that over the past decade, 1,000 to 1,500 people have moved each year from West to East Germany. These figures, he added, included people born in the West as well as East Germans who managed to return to their native land.

He said that while some emigrants encountered difficulties in adjusting to life in the West, the figure quoted by Neues Deutschland of 20,000 seeking to go back to East Germany seemed "extremely doubtful."

Last year, hundreds of East Germans who felt stymied in their visa requests sought asylum in West German embassies in East Europe. After months of negotiations that embarrassed both Germanys, the would-be emigrants agreed to return to their homes in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Some of the asylum-seekers reportedly have begun arriving in West Germany. But the communist government in East Berlin has vowed that it will not cede to the demands of people using similar tactics in the future.